By Jessica Hall, special to USTA.com
Crystal O’Connor enjoyed sports of all kinds – tennis, of course, and also softball – until an inexperienced driver nearly took her life away.
The Ocala, Fla., player was outside playing on a sidewalk 19 years ago when a 15-year-old’s foot slipped off the brake and pressed the gas, crushing the then-12-year-old O’Connor’s lower half against a wall as she tried to avoid being struck. The impact of the car broke Crystal’s right femur and damaged the surrounding muscles. She endured a six-month hospital stay, seven surgeries and a year of intense physical therapy to walk once more.
Now 31, O'Connor bears a striking reminder of the accident as she competes for a USTA League National Championship in Tucson, Ariz.: Below the hem of her shorts, O’Connor’s right thigh is indented, with a large, half-moon-shaped area missing in the back.
“My injury impacted me in many ways, the biggest being that I don’t have a right hamstring muscle,” O’Connor said, now in her fifth year on the USTA Florida 18 & Over women’s 3.0 team. “It’s a miracle. I have a terrific life with a beautiful family and I can’t complain because it could have gone a different way and I wouldn’t be here today playing tennis at a competitive level.”
Becoming serious about tennis was just one of the positive aftermaths of what could have been a nightmare. While convalescing, O’Connor remembered the skill and the kindness of the emergency room professionals that lessened her pain and put a smile on her face. At 12 years old, O’Connor zeroed in on what she wanted to do for the rest of her life once she could work: nursing.
“I can now appreciate the duties of an emergency room nurse because of what I went through and experienced,” O’Connor said. “My nurses and doctors were wonderful and the reason I healed so well to this day was because of their efforts.”
A wife and mother of three as well as being a fine tennis player, O’Connor hopes that the resolve she’s shown nearly two decades can inspire those close to her.
“When I was injured I kept telling myself that I was going to get back out there,” O’Connor said. “I wasn’t going to let my injury beat me.”