Featured Comeback: Natalie Kosko
ATHLETE: NATALIE KOSKO
FOLLOW HER: @nataliekosko34
Natalie Kosko has had an impressive journey throughout her athletic career. Having trained in gymnastics since young, she turned down a gymnastics scholarship to pursue the Cirque Du Soleil life. However, after picking up rugby at a local club team, she fell in love with the sport which would then become her new passion. As a naturally talented athlete, she was discovered and soon offered a contract on USA National Rugby Team. Her journey over the past few years have not been easy though. She shares her journey through overcoming two ACL injuries to returning to the game she loves, and aiming for the 2020 Olympics and 2021 World Cup.
“I started my athletic career as a gymnast. An oversized and an over aged one to be exact. I was 12 going on 13, hanging with the 5-10 year olds who were so much more advanced then me.
I had no idea what I was doing, but knew that I wanted to do gymnastics.
Up until this point, I never actually played any sports except I grew up with 5 older brothers, and was a competitive snowboarder on my own. But in terms of being part of a team and having a coach, that was all new to me. The day I stepped foot into an actually completive gymnastics gym, I knew I wanted to become the best that I could become. I saw girls doing things that I didn’t even know were possible, and coaches yelling at girls who wouldn’t flip over backwards on a balance beam. I couldn’t do a single pull up, could barely climb the rope, had zero flexibility, and lets not even talk about dance rhythm because that didn’t exist. My new coaches huffed and puffed when they realized how much of a “project” I was going to be, having very little to no faith in what kind of athlete I would turn into.
Within 10 months, I advanced two levels. I was with girls mostly my own age and my coaches were noticing something in me that they rarely saw. I was driven. I watched the Olympics for the first time and realized that I wanted to be one of them and nothing and no one was going to stop me.
It was not an easy road what so ever, but I became fearless in the pursuit of falling in love with challenge. The gym became my second home, and my coaches became my second parents. The doctors office became a frequently visited place - injury after injury, each one being more devastating. There were times when I missed nationals, and missed big events due to injury, but each time I made a comeback. And I came back stronger. But after a while, my Olympic dreams started to become foggy.
I was involved with gymnastics all throughout high school. Eventually, once I graduated, I turned down a gymnastics scholarship and pursued the Cirque Du Soleil Life. While training, I picked up Rugby at a local club team in my town. Instantly, I fell in love with the sport. I realized I was more of a locomotive than a butterfly. Within 3 months of playing rugby, I was invited to tryout for the USA National Team. At this point, I knew the Olympic dream that I always had, and always thought about, was actually becoming an option.
I was 19 years old, with no experience whatsoever. The national coach suggested I play college ball and get some experience. He said “you got what it takes, but its going to take all you’ve got” At that point, I was struck. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I went and played at Quinnipiac University and by the end of my junior year, the national coach offered me a contract on the USA National Team with a little over a year until the Olympics. I left school my senior year to give it a chance with the big dogs.
Unfortunately, life hits you and it really tests you to see if you have what it takes.
I tore my ACL, only 15 days before even moving to Olympic training center. I already had everything packed, and had already left school for this opportunity. I had no idea that something like this could happen so suddenly. I was devastated. For the first 2 weeks after the injury, I didn’t leave my bed. I felt like it was the end of the world. My athletic career was over. Having already left school, I had no idea what was next for me or even what to do. I started looking to people and athletes who had suffered an ACL tear and reading about how they made a comeback, and I started to regain hope.
I knew I could not give up, I knew this could not hold me back. I had a dream, and I knew I still had it in me. I reached out to athletes and trainers, and my parents made sure I was in the best care for a new ACL.
In August 2015, I had the surgery on my right ACL. From August to May, I went to therapy every week. I took the whole year off of school and rugby. I decided it was okay to take a break. I used my ACL recovery as a mental break as well as a physical break.
By May 2016, I was scared to tryout for the USA Team again and decided to go back to college ball. This time, I went to Lindenwood University. With one mindset, play rugby again. By August of 2016, I was back on the pitch in a place I never believed I would of been a year ago. But, something was different this time. I felt stronger after my ACL recovery.
My first game back, I felt like I couldn’t breathe because I was so nervous. I knew I prepared for it, I knew it was my time. Nothing is harder than seeing yourself play again after suffering an ACL. It almost feels impossible. Little did I know, it was one of the best years of my life. We traveled everywhere around the US and even played in Ireland. We won nationals for the first time and by the end of 2017, I was offered a second chance with the Team USA! I could not believe it!
I knew that all my hard work, determination and the willpower to keep going was actually playing off. This, by far, is one of the best feelings you could ever feel as an athlete.
From January to March of 2018, I traveled to California, Australia, twice, Japan, Mexico and Las Vegas. I was just reaching my peak. Everything felt so good and at this point, I was becoming what I always wanted!
Unfortunately, again… life hits you and tests you, harder sometimes.
In March of 2018, I tore my left ACL.
So many things ran through my head when the doctor came out and told me, “Your ACL is definitely torn. We can get you into surgery by the end of the week.”
This time, I said. “OK. Lets do it. I’ve been through it once, I can do this again". Whats another 10 months? The next upcoming Olympics aren’t for another 2.5 years. From that moment on, I knew what I had to do. I was an expert by now anyways, right?”
It was not the easiest road. One month in, I suffered an infection inside my knee. I had to have an emergency surgery that day to clean it out. Over a phone call, the doctor straight out said to me: “If I were you, I would want this done today rather tomorrow, than realizing its too late. This is how athletes lose their limbs.”
My heart sank as these words came through the phone.
I had the surgery that day, and woke up from surgery with the thoughts: “Is my leg still there? Do I still have an ACL?” Over the next two months, I was on strong antibiotics and was behind in my rehab.
But, I never lost focus. I kept going. By 4.5 months, I was running again on a treadmill. By 7 months, I was back in cleats, sprinting, and passing a ball. Today, I am at 9.5 months and I just started contact sports again.
One step at time. With God, anything and everything is possible. I have not given up on my dream. I have bigger dreams now, actually. My first game back is in March. I have my sights set on the 2020 Olympics and 2021 World Cup, with my two brand new ACLs. Just keep swimming.”
Thank you Natalie for helping to inspire athletes across the globe!
SPECIAL THANKS TO NATALIE’S RECOVERY TEAM:
dr. David Chao, Team USA physician, San diego
sarah leslie, physiotherapist / usa trainer
nicole titmas, physiotherapist / usa trainer