My name is Katina Rylee Cloud, but everyone calls me Rylee.
I am a from Mittie, Louisiana, a small country town with not even a caution light or stop sign. I am a sophomore at Fairview High School (the Lady Panthers) and play varsity softball and basketball.
My favorite sport of course is softball. I have played since I was a little girl, even before I could remember. Being from a small town, we didn’t know travel ball even existed until my 12U year so I played exclusively Dixie Youth for a small amount during each summer.
Once travel ball was discovered, it was like a whole new world for me. I fell even more in love with the game – that same love is still growing.
I come from a fairly large family: there are eight of us with Mom & Dad, two older brothers, one younger brother and two younger sisters. You can say it’s always “interesting” in our house.
I play shortstop/utility for Texas Blaze United 16U coached by Mike Prinzo; we are based out of Austin, Texas. Sure, it’s quite a trip (6 ½ hour drive) for practices and such, but it’s well worth it. I absolutely love the Blaze organization and what they have done and are doing for student-athletes like myself.
When I’m not playing sports, which is rare, I enjoy being outdoors. Fishing is one of my other favorite hobbies. I like hanging out with my friends, even though they don’t understand why I’m so obsessed with softball. I also like to spend time helping my family out farming watermelons.
This is my story of overcoming an ACL injury… I wanted to it with others who may be facing adversity.
January 4, 2019.
A day that once seemed like everything I had ever worked for, suddenly disappeared. My high school basketball team was playing our last regular season game at home against a very good opponent.
We had our minds set on one goal – to win the state title! Our team had already suffered a setback before the season had even begin by losing one of our leading scorers due to injury. But we weren’t gonna let that get in our way.
My school, Fairview, is known to be a powerhouse in girls’ basketball (all classes) and it had been a few years since we took home the trophy. Everyone was hungry. The expectations were set high. We knew it… everyone knew it.
Our game plan for each game was to pressure on defense and play fast (real fast), regardless of the opponent. If you want to play for the Fairview High School girls basketball team, you better be in shape!
Nothing was different about this night than any other. We knew what we had to do and we were more than prepared to execute. We had a large crowd watching, the student section was full. A perfect setting for the final regular season game.
We had the ball stolen from our point guard, a free two-point layup unless I run her down (which I have done many times before). The plan was to undercut the ball just before she brings it up to shoot. Execution was perfect. Deflected ball, no points.
On my attempt to slow down, something happened. My footing slipped and I slid into the student section. I knew something wasn’t right with my right knee. Something I have never felt before.
The days leading up to surgery was filled with all sorts of negative emotions. I felt them, my parents felt them, my teammates felt them (basketball and softball).
I was the leading scorer on the basketball team for the season and our high school softball team just came off of a deep run into the playoffs after finishing 3rd in the State Tournament the year before (my 8th grade year).
I was named District MVP and 1st team All-State. I was being pulled up to the “premier” team in my travel organization. Recruiting was hot at this point in time! I was going to college camps and things were looking great!
How could this happen to me? Why would this happen to me? I do everything right… I condition, I stretch, I work out, I practice religiously.
What did I do to deserve a major injury like this? Would I ever play again? Would I ever be what I was before the injury? A lot of Why’s and What If’s, but no answers.
I had surgery on January 24, 2019, only 20 days after the injury. My plan was to play softball that summer, 24 weeks away. This is where my biggest test began, both physically and emotionally.
I started PT the day after surgery. I had a motion machine to wear eight hours a day for the first week. My knee was being stretched way beyond where it wanted to. It was very painful, but I knew what I had to do if I wanted to be on the field in just six months.
I practiced with tennis balls in the house: hand/eye coordination, front hand, back hand, short hops. I sat in a chair to take tee work and would do anything I could do to stay on top of my game.
Once PT released me for light exercise, I took full advantage. I did everything I possibly could and was allowed to do. I was determined to return to softball!
I had so many people drag me down emotionally, but nothing was worse than being told I would never be what I once was. That I would probably never play at the level I was before the injury. That I would not be on the “premier” team as I was expecting.
This was very upsetting; I cried, a lot. I was working so hard to return and for what? Just to start over? What I had done up onto this point wasn’t enough credit to take a chance?
Regardless, I continued on with my vigorous workout routine.
I was released from PT just 12 weeks after starting and I had full range of motion. I felt good. My knee felt good. I could hit again, I could field (taking it light, of course). The doctor said I was on track for a 24-week release date.
At this point, my family and I had made a decision to move on from my travel ball club. This was upsetting as this is where I have been for so many years. I may not have fully understood the decision at the time, but this exact turning point is what sparked my return (spoiler!).
As summer approached, I felt good! Only one problem: I didn’t have a team to play for. No one wanted to take a chance on someone returning from an ACL injury. Rosters were full.
“Try back in the fall.”
I thought to myself, another setback. Here I was, ready to beat the odds and no one to give me a chance. My dad reached out to Coach Tammie (Davis) with the Texas Blaze Organization. She said, drive to Austin and let’s have a look.
We packed up and drove the 6 1/2 hours, although we didn’t know what to expect. My Mom stayed in the car; I went inside alone and I was scared to death. Never had I ever been in a situation like this.
I knew I had to impress or summer ball was over, before it even began. Coach Tammie talked to me for a little bit, she made me a little more comfortable, but I was still a wreck. She had me hit in the cage. I was doing terrible. Afterwards, she talked with my Mom and me for a little bit and before we knew it, we were heading home without any answers, just feeling depressed because of how I felt my performance went.
What felt like weeks went by, I don’t remember the exact time frame, and nothing. No clear answers on if I was going to play the summer or not.
Coach Tammie eventually called and invited me back out to Austin for a practice to see how the organization runs their practices and to see how well I would mesh with the team. So – we packed up again for a quick 6 ½ hour trip.
We worked defense and hitting, but still feeling out of place, I wasn’t sure this was gonna work out. I felt like 100 percent, but clearly I was behind. I couldn’t do what I once could. I was slower than the other girls. I couldn’t hit as good as I once could.
Afterwards Coach Tammie offered me a spot on the team, but it came with conditions. At this point, I just needed someone to give me a chance. She was firm: this was a great team with great players and it would be very difficult to see any playing time, but I would have an equal opportunity just like everyone else.
The trip home was the most excitement I had felt in some time. I think both me and my Dad cried! We called Mom, I’m sure she cried too.
How could I be so excited? I was basically told I could be on the team but it was going to be a huge uphill climb if I wanted to see any playing time. The opportunity alone blinded me to the reality of the situation. The Colorado tournament was only about five weeks away and I worked harder than ever leading up to the day we had to fly out. I didn’t care one bit about playing time. I was just looking for an opportunity… and I had one.
I changed my life-long number from #1 to #9 (Cloud9), something my Dad had joked with me about for years to change. I never thought I would actually have to do it (someone on the team was already #1). He told me to use it as a rebirth of Rylee Cloud.
A new organization, a new team, a new coach, new teammates, and a new number. I guess it was kind of like a rebirth. I was ready... or so I thought.
A couple games into the Colorado tournament I found myself standing up and cheering on my team from the dugout. I was enjoying just being in this atmosphere.
What a feeling! To know where I came from six short months ago and then it happened: Coach Tammie called my name. What? I’m batting?!?
My heart stopped. This moment felt like a lifetime. I replayed so many memories and emotions in my head. I remembered all the nights I cried myself to sleep. I remembered the coach that told me I would never be what I once was. I thought I was ready for this moment, but was I really?
I stepped into the box. I knew my approach. I knew what pitch I was looking for. I was confident. Not one time did the thought of failure cross my mind. Everything I had worked for my whole life was being balanced on this moment.
You probably can guess what happened next: I got a base hit! My teammates cheered, the crowd cheered, my parents cheered. Finally, I felt like this is where I was meant to be.
Fast forward to March 2020.
I had a successful 2019 summer and fall travel ball season. I have attended several camps and have enjoyed each one greatly. I have a home now, great teammates, made some new great friends, great coaches, great leaders, have something to look forward to and build on.
High school basketball season came back around. We finally got that trophy! I was named 1st team All-District and All-State honorable mention. I can only think, “What If?”
But it’s not the same “What ifs” that was plaguing me shortly after my ACL injury. These What Ifs are much different. What if I would have given up? What if there was no one that pushed me? What if I let the coach that sold me short win?
I can honestly say thank you! Thank you to everyone that stood by my side. Thank you to everyone that overlooked me. Thank you to my family that share the same desires and dreams a I do. Thank you Blaze for letting me become part of your family. And a special thank you to Coach Tammie. The one that saw something underneath the injury.
My advice to anyone facing adversity, no matter what it may be, is obstacles are meant to be overcome. Don’t take short cuts. Outwork everyone else. Don’t live in the negative. Use it for encouragement.
No doubt returning to sports after an ACL injury was difficult, but its possible. Know there will be setbacks, but there are brighter days ahead.