Donohue spiking the ball as the crowd watches in amazement.
Donohue spiking the ball as the crowd watches in amazement.

Unexpected serve challenges Glen Rock alumna

April 21, 2016

Something wasn’t right.

As Meghan Donohue watched the server prepare the ball, holding it straight ahead like a serving tray, this thought resonated clearly in her mind.

Something wasn’t right.

And it wasn’t the normal nerves she had learned to put aside and ignore; she wasn’t afraid of this server.

Something wasn’t right– with her focus.

There was a twinge and pressure in her right hip, nagging, subtle, but nonetheless there.  

The server floated the ball over the net and Meghan dug the ball. She could play through it. So, she did. She played through it.

That is, until it cracked through her hip.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

6.2% of volleyball players compete in college, and Meghan Donohue is fortunate enough to be part of that percentage. Meghan Donohue is a freshman at Lafayette College in Easton Pennsylvania and plays in the Patriots League.

In Glen Rock Middle School, eighth grader Meghan Donohue stepped out onto the court for the very first time. The blinding, white ceiling lights crept into the corner of her eyes as she looked towards her mother in the stands for reassurance. The goal was to just get the ball over the net but it was so difficult. So difficult, that even collegiate athletes sometimes struggle with it in high pressure situations.

“I remember learning how to serve underhand with a fist. That was the first type of serve I learned,” Donohue said. “Just get the ball over the net.”

She would tell herself this over and over again until she finally had the opportunity to do so. No matter what, no matter where, Donohue was there to win. She was there to get the ball over that net.

Donohue knew that volleyball was the sport for her, so she decided to take it to another level.

“My first club team was Cut Shot,” she said. 

Meghan Donohue serves the ball at Lafayette College in Easton Pennsylvania.
Meghan Donohue serves the ball at Lafayette College in Easton Pennsylvania.

Donohue played outside hitter throughout her entire high school and club experience. She is 5’7” and was placed there for her height at the time. She played for Essex Volleyball Club her freshman year of high school and also attended IHA. After Essex, she played for AAVC as well as Digs Volleyball Club.

Lizzie Alba, who was a high school sophomore when Donohue was a high school senior last year, looked up to Donohue on and off the court.

As a person, and as captain, she had great leadership, which made her a terrific role model.”

— Lizzie Alba

“Meghan was an amazing player. She wasn’t just great at one thing, she was great at everything,” Alba said. “Her hit was jaw dropping, and she was just an all around fantastic player.”

In 2012 of her sophomore year in high school, Donohue achieved 28 service aces, 68 service points, 129 kills, 1 assist, 7 blocks, and 189 digs. In 2013, junior Meghan Donohue had 64 service aces, 105 service points, 310 kills, 4 assists, 0.5 blocks, and 288 digs. 2014 of her senior year, Donohue achieved 45 aces, 95 points, 376 kills, 5 assists, 11 blocks, and 223 digs.

“She was a role model as a player, person, captain, and student. As a player, I always looked up to her and wanted to be as good as her, and she would help me get better. As a person, and as captain, she had great leadership, which made her a terrific role model,” Alba said.

Meghan smiling for a picture with a fan, who came all the way to Lafayette to watch her play.
Meghan smiling for a picture with Isabel Traphagen (’19), who traveled to Lafayette to watch her play.

“I use to play outside hitter in high school and all through club, but since I’m only 5’7” and wanted to play at a D1 level, I knew that girls trying to solidify an outside hitter spot in college would be 5’10” or taller, so I was happy in the back row,” Donohue said.  “In high school I always played back row, but I never came out when it was my time to go to the front row to hit. I was actually more known for my hitting than my defense.”

Now, Donohue plays libero/defensive specialist. Libero is a defensive specialist who remains in the game at all times.  Likewise, a libero is exempt from the rules of a regular rotation.  Libero, in Italian, means “free.” The rest is self-explanatory. The person who plays this position must wear a different colored jersey from the rest of her teammates in order to be recognized.  It is important for a libero to be consistent, have good digging ability, be quick with his or her hands and be mobile.

“She was really nice to the rest of the players, and she was always very supportive of everyone else. She had a fun, yet serious attitude on the court, which helped the way our team played during challenging situations,” Alba said.

RECRUITING PROCESS

Meghan was in her junior year of high school, and college was the only thing she could think about. She knew that she wanted to play at a D1 level in college, and her club coach helped her that year. Luckily, her club coach knew the head coach of the Lafayette volleyball team, Coach Campbell.

“He put me in contact with her right away in October, and I visited November of my Junior year.”

An older girl, who used to be on one of the teams in Donohue’s club, used to be a collegiate volleyball athlete at Lafayette.  At the time of Donohue’s recruitment process, the girl was an assistant coach at Lafayette.  She gave Donohue insight on what the head coach felt about Donohue as a player and what she wanted more of.

“They were a big help to my commitment to Lafayette,” Donohue said. “After I found out about Lafayette, I did not really want to pursue anymore schools.”

COLLEGE LIFE

Collegiate sports differ from club sports in the amount of intensity and devotion from the players.  There is no such thing as a “bad player” in a D1 college sport. Each player on a collegiate team went through the recruiting process and attended college camps and showcases.

“It’s a lot bigger commitment than high school and club. During preseason we had three a days and everyday during the season we had lift and practice or meeting and practice,” Donohue said.

Donohue finished the 2015 season playing 24 out of 27 matches as a freshman. She was ranked second on the team and sixth in the Patriots League. She had 0.34 aces per set, with 19 overall. She had four kills and 96 digs.  

College sports are hard, especially if they are division one.  The coaches make sure to challenge the players each and every day. Lifts and practices are extremely tiring and the first thing the player wants to do is go to bed, but five hours of homework is waiting. It can be very hard balancing out volleyball, academics, and a social life, but when it’s volleyball season, academics and volleyball are always first in line.

WHEN THE PAIN STARTED

Fracture: a partial or complete break in a bone.

Fracturing a bone is usually not a big deal, and may result in a minor surgery or a few days off from work and a couple “get well” cards.

“Probably tendinitis.” Donohue would hear this phrase over and over for the next couple of months.

I had my brother’s wedding. I continued to ice and stim almost everyday.”

— Meghan Donohue

Donohue felt a sudden pain in her hip towards the end of her first collegiate season in mid-November. She began to prepare for run tests during the end of the season, and something just wasn’t right. During the last two weeks or so in the season, Donohue realized an immediate ache and tightness in her hip. Her trainer had told her that it was most likely tendinitis, a condition in which the tissue connecting muscle to bone becomes inflamed.

From November to January, before she found out the diagnosis of her hip, she continued to go on the elliptical and bike. Running was limited by the trainer, so she had to try other exercise machines.  

“I had my brother’s wedding. I continued to ice and stim almost everyday. I also did everyday activities like, walking around campus and amusement parks in Florida,” Donohue said. She did all of these activities while experiencing a nagging pain in her hip.

While walking through Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, Donohue was quickly bothered by a shooting pain in her hip.  The weather was beautiful, the rides were fun, but something didn’t seem right.

At the time, Donohue believed that she hurt her hip by running. She had been running almost everyday since May, and her hip was fine until November.  She knew something was definitely wrong when she stopped running, because she continued to feel constant aches and pains.

Players and friends who used to be on Donohue’s high school team were left worried and confused.

“I was surprised when I heard about Meghan hurting her hip, because whenever she was playing, or had an injury, she was very careful about it. She’s really in shape, and athletic so it is not like her to get hurt,” Alba said.

DOCTORS

Donohue went to a local doctor for her first opinion. She walked into the building with a perpetual feeling of confusion, not knowing how to feel, how to react, or what to say. The doctor’s office smelt of rubber gloves and nurse’s perfume. A newborn, about three weeks old, was crying in the room over. The baby’s screech left Meghan feeling nervous and annoyed.  At first, the doctor didn’t see anything on the x-ray, so he did not think anything was wrong: a stress fracture was completely out of the picture. The doctor decided to get an MRI for a labrum tear in her hip. A labrum is a crescent- shaped cartilage structure that runs along the rim of the hip socket that provides added stability to the hip joint. Labral types of tears may be caused by a sudden injury.

“I had to get dye injected into my leg in order to see that muscle,” Donohue said.

She needed to know whether or not there was an underlying problem to the hip injury. Since nothing showed up on the x-ray, she was quite doubtful that anything would show up in an MRI.

Donohue and her mother then traveled to an orthopedic surgeon for another first opinion. This doctor suggested that Donohue get screws in her hip to heal the fracture, but then suggested that she just rest it for eight weeks instead. This didn’t seem right, so Donohue’s mom contacted four other doctors at the Hospital for Special Surgery for a second opinion.

“I was shocked that I had a fracture in one of my bones, but still did everyday activities; I put my hip through so much stress.”

Donohue trying out her crutches at the Lafayette College campus.
Donohue trying out her crutches at the Lafayette College campus.

Donohue and her mom wound up going to a trauma surgeon who suggested that staying on crutches for six to eight weeks, non weight bearing, was the right path for her. After the six weeks, Donohue would return for another MRI. This was to see if the bone was healing, and not displaced. If the bone is displaced, surgery is necessary.  Donohue was desolate that she would be on crutches for so long, but was glad she was finally getting the assistance she needed for her hip. Donohue will hopefully not need a hip replacement.

“I do not know yet whether this will effect me playing on the team, but right now I am bed ridden so I do not go to practices or lifts on my crutches. I am out for the spring, but hope to make a full recovery by fall my sophomore season,” Donohue said.

Donohue’s mother is a mother of four.  Donohue is the youngest as well as the only girl. They have always been very close, and this hip injury has brought them even closer. From driving from doctor to doctor, to sitting at home for six weeks, their relationship has definitely blossomed.

“At first it was really tough, but she’s hanging in. When she’s home, I get her whatever she needs so she doesn’t have to limp around the house,” Donohue’s mother said, “She only moves from the couch to the kitchen.”

Donohue does not know yet if the hip injury will affect her playing on the team. As of now, she either stays in her dorm, or stays home, so she does not attend regular practices or lifts, even on her reliable pair of crutches. Donohue is out for the spring, in hopes to make a full recovery to be able to play by her sophomore season.

SPREADING THE WORD

As soon as Donohue found out about the fracture, she called up Coach Campbell, her college coach.

“Coach Campbell was in shock when I told her. I called her up and she was speechless for a few moments,” Donohue said.

Her trainer was also in shock; no one had actually thought that she had broken a bone. So much for tendinitis.
Pretty soon, all of her friends and family were informed, and Donohue began to receive endless visits, coloring books, her favorite smoothies, hugs, and most importantly, love.

HIP FRACTURE

A hip is a joint. A joint is a point where two or more bones meet. In order to form a hip, the top of the femur and a part of the pelvic bone come together. The hip is a ball-and-socket joint, which means that the ball is the head of the femur, and the socket is the curved shape, or part of the pelvic bone called the acetabulum.

Meghan showing off her coloring book.
Meghan showing off her coloring book.

Fracturing a hip is much more than a broken bone. It is so shocking that Meghan Donohue has fractured her hip because most hip fractures happen to people who are 65 or older. The common cause of a hip fracture is from a fall, but if thin boned, it is possible to break a hip without falling.

A hip fracture is a very serious injury. It can be painful and it can include life-threatening complications. 
In the United States, hip fractures are the most familiar broken bone that involves hospitalization. About 300,000 Americans are hospitalized for a hip fracture each year. A “hip fracture” and a “broken hip” mean the same thing.

On her feet

The suspension is over, and the crutches are gone.

Meghan Donohue is now on her feet, a little earlier than expected. She is right where she needs to be, and attending current volleyball practices. Though Donohue cannot participate in the practices, she is doing the right thing, and getting involved one step at a time.

Donohue recently went to Utah for her spring break with her family. She sadly had to watch her family snowboard, ski, and do other fun, family activities. She looked up at the gorgeous, towering mountains, only imagining what her first game back will be like. She began to think about the bright lights that brought intensity to the court, and the immense crowds that cheered her name. She didn’t care much about not being able to participate in skiing with her family, but she cared about playing the game she loves with her second family, her team.

Donohue digging the ball.
Donohue digging the ball.

It turns out, Donohue did not need to pursue further in any hip surgeries.  She will continue to play volleyball throughout her college career, with not one regret; well, maybe fracturing her hip.  Donohue is quite relieved that she can finally say goodbye to her not-so-loved crutches. Though she will dearly miss the get well cards and treats, she is ready to move on from this traumatizing experience and get back into the game she has loved for a long time.

“I feel like a hip and happening new women,” Donohue said.

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