Delaney Spaulding Returns To Team USA With Joy After ACL Tear
On February 4, 2020, during the first game of the “Stand Beside Her” tour, Team USA shortstop Delaney Spaulding sustained the first major injury of her softball career, just five months before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were set to begin.
“In my last at-bat of the game, I hit a routine ground ball and the second baseman overthrew it,” Spaulding said. “I was turning to go to second base and my leg just gave out on me. I knew what it was as soon as it happened.”
Spaulding told her first base coach, Kelly Kretschman, that she knew she had torn her ACL.
After a brief examination from the University of South Florida’s resident orthopedic surgeon, Spaulding’s suspicion was confirmed: she had indeed torn her ACL.
“I was really emotional and didn’t necessarily want to believe it was happening,” said Spaulding. “I was trying to fathom, ‘Did this really just happen to me in our very first game?’”
Then, on March 24, a glimmer of hope appeared for Spaulding. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IOC officially made the decision to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games until 2021.
With the postponement of the Games, Spaulding made the decision to have elective surgery to repair her knee on May 5, 2020.
“The Olympics being pushed back a year was definitely a blessing for me,” said Spaulding. “I believed that I was going to tear my ACL at some point in my career, and I believe it was perfect timing with everything that happened in the remainder of 2020.
“I know that COVID impacted the entire globe and that it was kind of a dark time, but for me, personally, there was some light that came from 2020 and I’m very grateful for that.”
Mentally, Spaulding said that she leaned on her family, friends and teammates during her recovery period. She found added reassurance by communicating with other softball players who also battled through ACL injuries during their careers.
Physically, she is grateful that physical therapy was deemed as an essential business in 2020, which allowed her to “grind it out” in the gym on her road to recovery.
“Today, I feel great,” Spaulding said. “I feel great mentally. Physically, I’m right there where I was before I tore my ACL. Everything is going really well so far.”
After a whole year of itching to get back on the field, on March 13, 2021, Spaulding was finally able to take the field again with her USA teammates, playing on the same field at which her injury occurred a year prior.
“Ali Aguilar was, of course, very happy for me and she asked, ‘Are you going to cry?’ I told her no, but as soon as someone asks you that question, you become emotional,” said Spaulding.
“Running out to my position, I was holding back tears, but as soon as it was go-time, I refocused myself and was ready to go. It was an amazing feeling to get back on the field.”
With a refreshed sense of hope and excitement, Spaulding looks toward the summer with gold-medal aspirations.
“We have worked very hard and we’re going to continue to work hard to get to that top step,” Spaulding said. I’m really looking forward to being able to contribute to this team’s goals in the next couple of months.”
She adds that she and her teammates are focused and determined, but they're not forgetting to enjoy the journey along the way.
“We’re the No. 1 team in the world and we have to remember what got us there,” Spaulding said. “Right now, we’re sharpening the tools that we have and we’re getting together and overcoming our obstacles as a team.”
The Tokyo Olympics will be kickstarted in the best way possible, with softball. The sport will be the first to usher in the long-awaited Games with the opening contest set for the night of July 20 in the U.S. That night, Team USA will play its first contest at the Olympics in 13 years against Team Italy.