By Mike Deak
HIGH POINT, NC – Last week, we brought you the story of Warsaw’s Izzy Dittmar and her rehabilitation back from elbow surgery as she works to a potential place on her future Indiana Tech softball team this fall. Along the same lines is another former Warsaw softball player who is in the same predicament, but already had the taste of the good life.
Grace Johnson moved from Warsaw after her freshman year of high school, following her family to North Carolina as her dad, Jay, took a college softball coaching job in the Tar Heel state. Both Jay and wife, Heather, are former softball coaches at Grace College.
Grace would go on to have a stellar high school career at Northwest Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C. Getting the opportunity to go Division I, Johnson signed with North Carolina State and started living the Wolfpack lifestyle almost immediately out of high school. A serious knee injury, however, suffered just weeks before the fall semester started her freshman year at NC State, had Johnson walking into her dorm on crutches after surgery just days prior to move-in. Life certainly was taking a turn.
“I moved into school a week after surgery in a full leg brace and crutches,” noted Johnson. “The only softball thing I was able to do was bond with my team and do rehab. Once I got my brace unlocked I was able to start catching from a chair.”
Johnson went through last winter doing what she could, including living freshman year on the mend both athletically and trying to navigate getting to class every day. Johnson got out of the leg brace in December, then worked her way into more mobile activity in February, including throwing and tee work. She was cleared to start hitting via soft toss and the pitching machine in March when the coronavirus pandemic began. While the stoppage not only put a curb to the NC State softball season that had already begun, but closed down campus very abruptly.
And with it meant all of her normal routines and comforts were left behind in Raleigh as she is now forced to continue to work back at home in High Point.
“Getting used to a new routine and level of training and rehab was definitely challenging,” Johnson said. “Having people who’s careers are focused on me and my success is such a unique gift to have. With quarantine and campus being shut down, not having those resources at the tip of my fingers has not been easy.”
Grace and her dad soon devised some homemade workout items to continue Grace’s rehab progress. The ability to continue that progress has now allowed Grace to be almost fully mobile and to the point where her softball workouts can resume soon.
“I’m at a point in my recovery where I’m just about able to do anything I want,” Johnson said. “I was cleared three weeks ago to begin change of direction work which is the last phase of recovery. (Tuesday) I’m at nine months post op. We’re in no rush to get me cleared, however. The longer we wait and continue to train and rehab the less chance there is for reinjury.”
Johnson noted she checks in with the NC State athletic trainers via FaceTime every day, both to ensure that the exercises and routines are done properly, but to also just ‘hang out’ and keep tabs on one another.
NC State was off to a 19-6 start, including a three-game sweep of Notre Dame in Raleigh, before the season was put to a halt.
Johnson earned ‘redshirt’ status since she was ruled out before the season started, and will hopefully begin her formal ‘freshman’ year next fall.