The wind was just loud enough to mute her daughter’s screams, but Patti Kerkhoff knew something wasn’t right.
When she looked down from the bleachers at her youngest of three children, Shauni Kerkhoff, who was lying facedown across the grass on the University of Pennsylvania’s home field Sept. 4, Patti wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“I’ve always told her, ‘Unless you’re profusely bleeding or something, or your body is pointing the wrong direction, I’m not going to panic,’” she said last week.
Temple’s senior goalkeeper collided with Penn’s freshman midfielder Allie Trzaska as the two were racing toward the ball, which was played between them in the box.
Patti Kerkhoff waited patiently for her daughter to rise back to her feet, but when she saw her daughter’s face turn “beet red,” she and another parent hustled down to the field.
“I had a feeling when it happened that, ‘This is bad, and she’s probably out a few games,’” she said. “And then when I got to the sideline, and I saw her … I knew it was probably over.”
After kneeling down to ask her daughter if she was OK, Patti turned to the Owls’ graduate athletic trainer, Erika Johnson, for more answers.
“I remember her asking, ‘Erika, what happened?’ and Erika said, ‘I think she broke her leg,’” Shauni Kerkhoff said. “And when she said that, my mom started tearing up.”
Later that night, the American Athletic Conference Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year found out she broke her tibia.
With her mother by her side, Shauni Kerkhoff was escorted from the field to the Hospital of the University of the Pennsylvania. She arrived at 8 p.m., entered surgery at 1:30 a.m. and finished at 6:30 a.m.
Shauni Kerkhoff said the surgeon’s initial diagnosis gave her hope she could return in time for Temple’s Senior Day game at home against Houston Oct. 25, but that dream was crushed when she attended her first post-op appointment.
Within the first two weeks following her surgery, Shauni Kerkhoff said she hit rock bottom. The 5-foot-7-inch Westerville, Ohio native, who said she can’t go a day without exercising, fell into a depression due to her lack of mobility.
“She was really lost for a while,” Patti Kerkhoff said. “And the hardest thing as a parent is just seeing her like that.”
But then, she discovered a positive side.
As a freshman, Shauni Kerkhoff “fell in love” with Temple’s ProRanger Program, a partnership between the National Park Service and Temple, which trains and employs law enforcement park rangers.
She was studying kinesiology but switched her major to criminal justice to apply for the program. But the government shutdown in 2013 put the program on hold.
ProRanger’s application process opened back up during her junior year, but she chose to stay on her “4+1” accelerated master’s track in criminal justice research.
A few weeks after her injury, ProRanger returned, and with a recommendation to the program’s director from Justin Miller, Senior Director of the Resnick Center for Student-Athletes, Shauni Kerkhoff was offered an accelerated track for the program, which strictly accepts sophomores and below.
“This is going to sound so demented when I say this, but I’m grateful that I broke my leg,” Shauni Kerkhoff said. “Because had I not, I wouldn’t have pursued my dream job.”
The night she broke her leg, Shauni Kerkhoff said she considered pursuing a redshirt.
But her decision to join ProRanger ended that pursuit, as she finished her career on the field and took the first touch of the second-half kickoff on Senior Day, forfeiting her eligibility.
“I think she just was excited to move on with that part of her career,” coach Seamus O’Connor said. “It’s sad that she’s not coming back, but I just want the best for these kids, and I know she’s going to be so successful.”
Tom Reifsnyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.