Seeing the game of volleyball through a different lens hit UNO Women’s Volleyball player Gess Gdowski unexpectedly during the spring of her freshman year after she suffered an ACL tear. She was forced to sit out of all competition for a year and a half.
A ball that was set slightly far off the net during a spring practice required Gdowski to chase it down, which resulted in her momentum getting the best of her. This incident came with excruciating pain and the terrifying realization that something significant had just happened inside her knee.
Despite the severity of the pain Gdowski experienced, she discovered there is much more than a physical pain that comes along with such a serious injury. The other type of pain is an emotional pain. A pain that comes when a person has their passion ripped away from them and is forced to live without it for an allotted amount of time.
For Gdowski, the emotional adversity equaled the physical.
“It was really tough,” Gdowski says. “Not being able to form the same connection with the team as everyone else. It’s a different story when you’re unable to compete with your teammates in neither practice nor the games. That was a huge emotional challenge.”
Although Gdowski’s role was quite different than it had ever been, she is thankful for what her time out of the game taught her.
“I gained a new perspective on volleyball and sports in general,” Gdowski said. “I realized that my identity doesn’t lie in this sport and my value doesn’t come from how well I perform.”
Gdowski’s placement on the Summit League All-Newcomer Team, among other awards she has collected over the years, made it tough to see that the game of volleyball and her performance within it didn’t define her.
After a long, and at times painful recovery, Gdowski has recently made her comeback on the court and in her mind. She can see volleyball in a different light as well as play the game she loves again.
“There are definitely both physical and emotional struggles even though I’m cleared to play now,” Gdowski said. “Physically, I still battle pain in my knee pretty frequently. Emotionally, it’s a matter of getting over the fear of re-injuring myself; that’s scary.”
Gdowski made her full-game debut against the University of Northern Iowa on Sept. 15 which she described as an exciting and thrilling experience to finally be back on the court again.
She also described her role as a medical redshirt as an opportunity to provide a different kind of support for her teammates.
“Last year I was able to provide a different support for my teammates. Almost from the perspective of a coach, without being a coach,” Gdowski said.
A year and a half that appeared so daunting, just as it would to most, ended up playing a significant role in Gdowski growing as both a person and a player.
Along with gaining a new perspective on the game, Gdowski also gained a new perspective on her life. More specifically, her faith.
During this time of trial, Gdowski feels that it’s her faith that grew the most out of anything.
“I had to truly learn how to rely on God throughout this entire experience. My faith, family and friends are what got me through it all,” Gdowski said.
An experience that appeared from the beginning to be a long road, turned out to be a long road of growth, change and new perspective for the redshirt sophomore.
“As weird as it is to say, I wouldn’t go back and change it,” Gdowski said. “I’m very thankful for this experience.”