COLUMBIA — Almost a year and a half after a horrific fall in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, there is little visible evidence that Breta Phillips is still recovering.
The senior is a loud, joyful leader of Rock Bridge High School’s soccer team.
But she’s not the player or the person she was in the weeks leading up to Nov. 30, 2012. Back then she was on top of the world.
Carrera Soccer Club had just invited her to compete with its elite team for free, and she had already played in one collegiate showcase that fall.
When given an opportunity for adventure, she never hesitated, and she thought she could do anything.
Then she fell.
She dropped from a rocky ledge in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park to the bottom of Devil’s Icebox, a cave in the park.
A pile of autumn leaves 4 to 5 feet deep broke the fall — about 30 feet. Nearby hikers Mark Bowles and Marquis Brookins heard Phillips’ friend Joanna Zhang’s desperate cries for help.
The two found and comforted the frightened girls while calling 911. Emergency medical technicians placed loaded Phillips onto a helicopter bound for University Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
Throughout the first night, Phillips was unresponsive, but over the next few days, nurses and her mother caught her mumbling Philippians 4:13.
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Not the player she was
One of those things turned out to be playing soccer again, but it wouldn’t be easy.
The promising athlete who played on varsity as a sophomore and could juggle a soccer ball 463 times in a row lost significant portions of her Rectus Femoris, one of four muscles in her right thigh, and her ability to balance.
In her first attempt after she was cleared to use her leg, she could juggle 10 times. As of last week, she could juggle 50 times on a good day.
Phillips spent her junior year on Rock Bridge’s junior varsity squad.
“It was humiliating — not because I played JV, but because I wasn’t strong enough to get back on varsity,” Phillips said.
Going into her senior year, Phillips hoped to recover her former ability and help her team win, but she faced a new coach and one who isn’t prone to substitute often.
“We’re trying to be fit enough to play whoever’s playing best at that moment,” Bruins coach Gary Drewing said.
If Phillips couldn’t win a starting job, she would barely play, and that’s what has happened so far. She has zero starts through 14 games this season.
The player she is
Phillips doesn't need to play to lead, though. She has a loud, funny personality, and she works hard.
Drewing said Phillips is one of the most intelligent and entertaining people he knows and someone he won’t ever forget. On the field, her fitness and work ethic make quite the impression.
“That’s something I can count on; I know I will work hard,” Phillips said. “I know I will try my best. Sometimes that’s enough, but not always.”
Phillips still finds herself struggling with confidence and consistency, but that's an area where the new coach helps out.
“There’s a lot more community this year,” Phillips said. “We’re a lot more excited this year because we’ve got a new coach. I know I’m going to get better this year.”
Teammate Haleigh Fancher described Drewing as someone who brings the team hope as he works to bring the players together.
Phillips loves how Drewing connects with the team and uses a democratic leadership style.
“I get their input on everything,” Drewing said. “It’s really their program.”
Drewing said that he tries to treat Phillips like any other player on his team and that he doesn’t ask her to play outside of her current abilities. He wants her to be confident in everything she does.
Phillips will talk about how stupid she was back on Nov. 30, 2012, but she does not regret that day.
She regrets her loss of soccer skills. She regrets the pain she caused her friends and family, and she regrets the money that she cost her parents.
She said, though, that the fall made her stronger — just not physically.
She can connect and empathize with people going through all kinds of struggles now, especially those who suffer serious injury.
Also, her faith as a Lutheran has grown. She says Philippians 4:13 will always be her favorite verse, but she has a new verse that she looks to as she prepares for the rest of the season and architectural engineering classes at the University of Kansas in the fall.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer,” Paul writes in Romans 12:12.
Phillips now knows a thing or two about tribulation.
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.