(Editor’s Note: This piece first appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz on Nov. 14, 2014. Kiely Chaklos and the Lebanon Valley College women’s basketball team open their season 2015-16 season on Saturday.)
BY JEFF FALK
COVER PHOTO FROM BLUE CARDINAL PHOTOGRAPHY
ACTION SHOTS COURTESY OF LVC
When Kiely Chaklos suffered the worst injury of her 15-year basketball-playing career, she had a choice to make. The one she made was a quick one, a decisive one, a bold one – dare we say, an easy one.
Actually, it was no decision at all.
What Chaklos ultimately chose was dedication, loyalty, team ahead of self and hard work. The decision was simply a reflection of how Chaklos is wired.
When the Lebanon Valley College women’s basketball program opens its 2014-15 campaign on Friday afternoon against Haverford, it will do so without its best player. But Chaklos ain’t going anywhere. She’ s just taking a one-year hiatus from playing the game she loves, albeit a forced one.
“I love the sport and love my teammates too much for this to be the way my story ends,” said Chaklos, on the eve of the Flying Dutchmen’s season-opener. “If there was no educational way for me to benefit, I could’ve considered not playing. For me, it was a no-brainer. I can go through the rehab and the pain. It’ll be worth it.
“Emotionally, for myself, it’s very important to be around my teammates,” added Chaklos. “I’m still the captain. I’m still the leader. I’m still all in.”
Yes, Chaklos has been forced to forfeit her senior season in Annville by a totally torn ACL in her right knee. But more than a forfeit, it’s a postponement of her final year of Division Three eligibility.
Chaklos has vowed to return to LVC’s playing fold in 2015-16. Between now and then, what lies ahead for Chaklos is the most challenging 12 months of her young life.
“I love to practice,” said Chaklos, a hard-nosed, 5-4 point guard out of Nativity BVM High School in Frackville. “Day One was hard to watch. You just want to be a part of it. I have good days and bad days. Some days I wish I could be out there with them (her teammates). And some days I’m excited about being at practice, wanting to do everything I can to help.
“Nothing really changes as far as being a part of the team,” continued Chaklos. “I’m going to be a part of the team, as far as being at every practice and at every game . I just can’t play. Nothing has changed as far as me being a leader.”
Chaklos blew out her right knee on September 10 – a Wednesday – during a preseason pick-up game. She made a move she had made a hundred times before, just taking the ball strong to the basket. She instantly knew that something wasn’t right.
“I was on a break, in transition, I took one last lunge before going up, and it buckled on me,” said Chaklos, who always seems to go hard. “It was a pick-up game, my third game of the day. This is my first serious injury. Go big or go home.
“I look at it as more of a bad break,” Chaklos continued. “Yeah, I’ve played a lot of basketball. You try to strengthen your body as much as you can, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
Chaklos went under the knife at Hershey Medical Center on October 15, ironically on Lebanon Valley’s first official day of practice. Her rehab began almost as soon as the anesthesia wore off.
Rehab is a long, lonely journey, one filled with pain, hard work, soul searching and self-examination. Sometimes to keep going, athletes must focus on more than just the ultimate goal.
“It went well. The surgery was a success,” said Chaklos. “I started rehab the day after the surgery. It’s just a process. You have to celebrate the little milestones. It’s a six- or seven-month recovery time, before I can play a contact sport. I had an immobilizer for the first three weeks, and just ditched the crutches. I’m getting there.
“I go to LVC’s new physical therapy clinic three times a week, and work with two PT professors/doctors,” Chaklos added. “The other four days I exercise on my own. The first week or two I was working on getting my range of motion back. Now we’re at the biking stage. But I feel like a toddler, because I’m learning to walk again.”
What Chaklos’ injury has also done is interrupt an outstanding college career. A deft play maker with scoring, passing and defensive abilities, Chaklos had helped the Flying Dutchmen to a Commonwealth Conference championship game appearance in each of her first three seasons in Annville – LVC won two of them – and three appearances in the NCAA Division Three national tournament.
“When I graduate this year, I’ll become a graduate assistant,” said Chaklos. “Fortunately, LVC has an MBA program in business, so I’ll be able to be a graduate student and play next year. I’m fortunate because I’m learning a lot from the sidelines. No one wants to watch the game they love. But when you think about silver linings, it’s the best-case scenario.
“I can’t wait to run,” continued Chaklos. “I’m pushing nine weeks (of rehab) and I haven’t been able to run. I haven’t been able to do anything cardiovascular. My plan is to be better than I was. Once I get to the point of being ready to play, I want to hit the ground running. I don’t plan on losing a step. I plan on gaining a couple.”
From a team standpoint, Chaklos will be missed most as a floor leader, a role which could’ve helped smooth Lebanon Valley’s transition from a departed head coach to a successor. Amy Sokaitis takes over for the highly successful Todd Goclowski, who was dismissed in April.
“Overall, our team has a lot of doubters who wonder what we can do,” said Chaklos. “I’m excited to see what they (her teammates) can do without me.
“Coach Sokaitis has been awesome,” Chaklos continued. “When I first found out about the injury I went to her office and sobbed. She’s been nothing but supportive and motivating. She keeps me involved in practice, and it makes the whole thing so bearable.”
Through it all, Chaklos has never felt sorry for herself or asked, ‘Why me?’. By keeping the big picture in focus, she realizes how blessed she has been.
“Up to now, I’ve had the career every kid dreams of, playing college basketball at a great school,” said Chaklos. “And we had fun doing it. It’s not how I wanted my senior season to go.
“LVC is just a great place to be,” continued Chaklos. “I’m just blessed to play for a great school and to play with great teammates. I’ll miss this place when I leave. I liked it so much I had to come back.”