After missing her entire Grade 11 indoor-volleyball season, after enduring grueling months of “doing nothing” and after spending a good portion of her school year having to lie down in class, Mikayla Wagner is finally back.
The Elgin Park Secondary student – who is heading into her senior year – is now fully recovered from serious back surgery last September, in which she had a number of vertebrae fused together, and a large rod implanted, to correct a 60 per cent curvature of her spine, caused by scoliosis.
“I found out about (having scoliosis) in about Grade 9, but it didn’t really bother me at first – didn’t really give me too much pain or anything,” said Wagner, who is also an accomplished beach-volleyball player.
“But as I grew taller, the curve (of the spine) really started to progress and get worse. I’d go to the doctor every six months or so, and even though it didn’t affect my day-to-day life, the doctors were worried about my future – they said down the road I could have crushed discs, that sort of thing.”
Wagner had the surgery last September at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver – a nine-hour procedure – and the surgery was followed by five days in the hospital in halo traction, and then eight months of rest.
“No physio, no rehab, no anything,” she said. “It was tough after about six months, because by then I felt totally fine, but doctors and everyone didn’t want me to push it… it was pretty frustrating for me, not being able to play volleyball for so long, but it wasn’t worth the risk.
“I’m a pretty active person, and sitting around that much was pretty brutal.”
After two weeks, Wagner returned to school at Elgin Park, but because it hurt her to sit for too long, she had to lie down – “I’d just lie down right in the middle of the room,” she laughed.
“I was in a co-op program, so I only had two teachers, and was with the same classmates, so it wasn’t so bad. If I was in a regular (class) schedule, I guess it could’ve been pretty awkward, having to explain myself all the time.”
As she became more mobile, she returned to the volleyball court in fits and starts – first helping coach her Seaside Volleyball Club’s U15 girls team – and then slowly, in mid-June, returning to practice with her own club side, as well as a few others of different age groups, just to get back up to speed.
And though she admits to having to shake off a fair bit of rust after not playing for so long, Wagner said the surgery had pluses and minuses, as far as her on-court skills were concerned.
“As far as strength goes, I was definitely lacking my vertical leap, and the first few practices were a little brutal,” said Wagner, who plays setter. “But my overall skills, they didn’t go away.”
Decrease in vertical jump, aside – which she admits is still less than before surgery – Wagner said she’s made up for it because she’s now taller, post-surgery.
“I actually grew, now that my spine is straightened out, so that was pretty awesome – my reach is the same as it was before,” she said.
As one might expect of someone recovering from such a serious procedure, Wagner said she did wonder, at times, if she’d be able to return to the sport and play it at the same level she once did. But her fears were soothed by one of her coaches at Seaside – current Trinity Western University volleyball player Lauren Moncks, who underwent a similar surgery herself as a teenager.
“She was able to come back and get a college scholarship. She told me that coming back would be really hard, but that it’s possible. That gave me a lot of hope,” Wagner said.
“Knowing that I’d be able to come back and eventually step back onto the court – that’s all I was looking forward to the whole time.”
Now recovered to the point that she doesn’t even think much about the metal rod in her back, Wagner has had a busy summer on the beach-volleyball circuit. Earlier this summer, with playing partner Malia Sholz, Wagner won gold in the U18 division of the Sand Series 2 at Vancouver’s Spanish Banks. Late last month, Wagner picked up a bronze at another U18 tournament in Penticton.
And though it might be rare in the middle of summer to hear a student express enthusiasm for a return to school, Wagner is looking forward to her Grade 12 year at Elgin, and her final high-school indoor season.
“I’m pretty excited about it, about coming back,” she said.
“We’ll have a pretty strong team. I think this year is really going to be a good one.”