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Dedication to the max

No stranger to surgeries, Meaghan Schultz endures a lot to stay in the lineup.

By JOEY KNIGHT
Published May 11, 2007


LITHIA

She could have cashed in long ago, and few would have blamed her. Meaghan Schultz could have plopped down her physiological full house - three knee dislocations, two surgically mended club feet - and left the trainer's table.

Don't think that option never entered her mind. It did.

"I've been very, very close, " Schultz said.

Instead of showing those sympathy cards, the Newsome sophomore scrapped them all. She is pinning all hope on her one heart - and one diamond.

The one on which the Class 5A championship will be determined.

"Oh my gosh, I call her the walking Band-Aid, " Wolves teammate Jamie O'Hara said. "I love her. The thing about it is that she works so hard and she gives so much."

On a team that may have the local Ace bandage market cornered, Schultz stands out - on knees and ankles bearing opaque surgical scars.

The veteran of five surgeries - three of which occurred by her first birthday - is tied with O'Hara for the team lead in batting average .439 and hits (36), and leads the club in doubles (eight).

Should she reach base in today's 5A semifinal against West Boca Raton, there's a solid chance Schultz will be subbed for a courtesy runner. But in a sport where sacrifices are essential, that's one Coach Jessi Kowal is more than willing to make.

"She's slow, she knows she's slow and you can tell watching her run that something's not right, " Kowal said. "But that kid will give you 100 percent. ...A lot of kids would've said, 'It's time to hang my glove up.' "

Before she could walk, Schultz was undergoing a triad of surgeries to enable her to walk. According to her mom, Kathy, Meaghan was born with misshaped heels and essentially no Achilles' tendons.

Nonetheless, she was walking at around 15 months, running shortly thereafter and taking up equestrian activities by kindergarten.

It's training that would come in handy later in life, when she kept hopping back on a figurative horse continually throwing her off.

Schultz broke a foot sliding into second base the summer before eighth grade. The following summer, she broke her thumb when a girl slid hard into third base.

But the most prominent middle school setbacks, by far, were three kneecap dislocations - two on the right knee - while playing softball.

That prompted double knee surgery weeks before she began high school, which included the insertion of two screws in each knee for stability. Schultz arrived at Newsome with crutches, heavy braces on both knees and no chance of playing for the Wolves' fall team.

Five months later, she had made the varsity roster as a freshman.

"I just can't quit, " she said.

"She just loves the game and keeps coming back and back, " Kathy Schultz added.

"She was willing to do all that so she could play. When she dislocated her (left) kneecap right before her freshman year, the first thing she said was, 'I want the surgery, I want the surgery, ' so she could have a chance to play that spring."

In view of her entire medical dossier, the mere mention of Schultz's two right ankle sprains sustained over the past nine months now seems trite. As if some lingering lower-foot pain will do what all those arthroscopic scars couldn't - bench her.

"I just love the game so much, it's so much fun, " she said.

"The things that she can do, oh my gosh, " O'Hara gushed. "A regular person wouldn't either have the guts to do it or couldn't do it, and she still works twice as hard as a lot of other people."

Such is the potential trump card Newsome brings to the table today.

Meaghan Schultz. One of a kind.

Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or jknight@sptimes.com