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Baranek: A Ray of sunshine after four knee surgeries

St. Francis' Kaitlyn Ray | Supplied photo

St. Francis' Kaitlyn Ray | Supplied photo

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Updated: March 25, 2014 6:21AM



Kaitlyn Ray is celebrating an anniversary Tuesday.

On Feb. 25, 2013, the New Lenox native underwent knee surgery for the fourth time since she was a junior at Lincoln-Way West.

Imagine having four anniversaries for something like that when you’re only 21 years of age.

Ray doesn’t dwell on it. She’s too busy moving forward — something that has taken every bit of mettle she has in her 5-foot-8 frame.

The best part of this story is that Ray is about to finish the basketball season on the court for the University of St. Francis. It’s the first time she’s been able to play to the end of a season in a healthy state since her sophomore year at Lincoln-Way Central.

Ray is averaging 19.6 minutes and 7.4 points per game, and has connected for 32 three-pointers for the Fighting Saints.

Her story has been presented here several times before.

The first was in early January of 2011. Over Christmas, Kaitlyn had suffered her second knee injury in as many seasons and was awaiting word from her doctor regarding surgery. As luck would have it, he called during our interview and gave her the news that she’d need surgery again but it could wait until that summer.

So she played in pain to the end of her senior year.

In February of 2012, I gave Kaitlyn a call to see how she was doing at St. Francis, only to find out she’d suffered her third knee injury, had just had another surgery and was redshirting.

She vowed to come back and did. In November 2013 she returned to the court and played in 16 games for St. Francis before going down again with a season-ending knee injury.

Given the option to just forget basketball, get some therapy and go on with life, Kaitlyn instead chose to go under the knife for a fourth time and again through the process of a long, oppressive rehab.

On Nov. 15 she made her season debut with St. Francis, playing 24 minutes and scoring five points.

Since then it’s been so far, so good for one of the toughest Southland athletes I’ve ever had the privilege to meet.

“Knock on wood. I’ve still got a couple of games left,” she said, laughing. “But it’s exciting just to finish a season strong for the first time in five years.”

And I don’t think you can put a price on hanging with friends during spring break instead of having them come to visit you at home after surgery.

“I am really looking forward to that,” she said. “It will be great just not feeling left out, I guess.”

What she’s most excited about is being able to take part in all of the preseason conditioning. Ray still has a lot to prove — or at least a lot to reveal.

There is a lot of basketball talent in Kaitlyn Ray. Despite devastating injuries, she scored 1,148 points in a career that began at Lincoln-Way Central and segued to West when the new school opened.

She was all-area as a senior, and without the injuries certainly would have gone D-1.

As it was, St. Francis was so impressed with not only her abilities, but her heart, that it eagerly pursued her.

Her story has been chronicled in a DVD that a media student at the school produced called “K Ray’s Journey.” I only wish that every athlete who has gone through a fraction of Kaitlyn’s adversity could see it.

“People will tell me, ‘You don’t realize how many people you inspire who you might not know,’ ” Ray said. “Honestly, I don’t feel like anyone looks at me any different.

“But if there is one high school girl out there who went through two knee injuries and read an article about how I’m still doing it, and it makes them excited like, ‘If someone else can do it, I can do it,’ … if I could just touch one female athlete in that way, it would be awesome for me.”

How inspiring is that?



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