Fear is an emotion that is unwelcome in the mind of an athlete. It puts him or her on the defensive, which can hinder performance. Competitive athletes must be on the offensive and think positively, never considering risk or the dangers in sport.
This ideology is indisputable in theory. The reality for Jess Kohut ’07, however, was that fear was an undeniable opponent as she entered her senior season of softball at TCNJ. While pitching for the Lions in 2006, Kohut was struck in the face by a line drive traveling over 90 miles per hour off the bat of a Muhlenberg College hitter. She sustained extensive facial injuries that ended her season and, potentially, her career. But the gritty ballplayer rose up from the turf to dust off any physical or psychological obstacles and laced up her spikes for her final season at TCNJ.
Kohut’s exceptional courage and determination earned her the prestigious Honda Inspiration Award. She was selected out of a pool of candidates nominated by NCAA-member schools in Division I, II, and III. Kohut ’s story was revered as the most inspiring amongst all female collegiate athletes across the country in 2006.
“Returning to play my senior year was something I decided the second I got out of surgery, ” Kohut recalled. “It was something I had to do. I had played softball my entire life, and I didn’t want my career to end on those terms. There were some difficult moments, but honestly, the toughest aspect of coming back was playing the waiting game. It took time to get healthy enough to resume training. College athletes are taught to push themselves as hard as possible, and I had to learn to limit myself until I was back to full strength. ”
The “waiting game” comprised a seven-month absence from basic conditioning and physical activity. Once she was cleared to play, Kohut assumed the first-base position for the College. Although a corner infield position is not the safest position on the field, it ’s where head coach Sally Miller needed senior leadership. Kohut responded with more than just a veteran presence at first. She played near-flawless defense. While starting 29 of 32 games, she committed only three errors in 194 total chances to lead everyday infielders with a .985 fielding percentage. Her glove and bat helped TCNJ to 16 victories and also served as a source of inspiration to any teammate who ever fostered the thought, “I can’t….”
“We had two freshman infielders on the left side of the infield,” Kohut explained. “So first base was a perfect position to provide leadership. I could make good eye contact with the freshmen and guide them with positive body language. ”
A Hillsdale resident, Kohut will receive her bachelor’s degree in December 2007 with a 3.43 GPA in elementary education/psychology. She plans to purse a career in teaching, and while commandeering a class of youngsters will present new challenges, she can always call on the mental toughness she exercised as an athlete.
“I learned a lot through this experience,” Kohut said. “I think the biggest thing I came away with is to enjoy what you do. I had to do something that was hard at times,
but I did it for myself.”