When a famous pro athlete is injured, news reports invariably include a prognosis of how long the star is expected to be sidelined.
These are based mostly on physical factors, but as Kayla Fujimoto of Geneva can attest, there are also psychological aspects to coming back from an injury.
Fujimoto, a senior on the Indiana women’s tennis team, suffered a torn labrum in her right shoulder at the end of her sophomore year in college. After surgery, she was expected to be sidelined 6 to 8 months. To stay in shape, she practiced left-handed, but wound up tearing a ligament in her left wrist, an injury that also required surgery in February.
As a result, she was unable to compete during her entire junior year.
Fujimoto said she started rehab in May and “worked really hard over the summer” to be ready for the fall tennis season. Last weekend, she played in her first competitive matches in more than a year.
“It was definitely great to compete again,” she said. “I think my biggest challenge this year is just mental … keeping my frustrations at bay and being patient.”
Fujimoto opened the Hoosier Classic on Friday with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Kelsey King of Western Michigan and also teamed with Katie Klyczek to win her first doubles match of the season.
Fujimoto won again in singles play Saturday, defeating Kansas State’s Livia Cirnu, 7-5, 6-2.
She wrapped up a 3-0 tournament mark in singles play by downing Sierra Sullivan of Cincinnati, 6-2, 6-3.
“I didn’t play my best, but it’s definitely better to pull out a win and find a way to win rather than being frustrated,” Fujimoto said. “I competed well. I was happy with that.”
Fujimoto is trying to take a long view of her recovery process, aiming to be ready for the more important spring season.
“I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to be back 100 percent right away,” she said. “I just need to be patient this fall.”
Fujimoto says she started playing tennis when she was 4 years old and began competitive play when she was 8 or 9. She also played soccer through middle school, but tennis was her main focus.
“I was always more active in tennis,” she said. “Since it’s an individual sport, it’s really all about you on that day. … I like the whole individual challenge that it has every day.”
At Geneva High School, Fujimoto qualified for the state tournament all four years, finishing sixth her sophomore year.
Although Purdue, Iowa and William & Mary were also on her college search list, Fujimoto was set on becoming a Hoosier.
“I was always interested in coming to Indiana since my sophomore year in high school. I did some camps here,” she said. “Every time I visited, I really liked the campus and the sense of community with the tennis team.”
As a freshman at IU, she won 19 matches at No. 4 and No. 5 singles and teamed with Evgeniya Vertesheva to post a 24-10 record in doubles play. The duo was ranked as high as 68th in the nation.
As a sophomore, she finished 22-9 in singles play, notching her first victory over a ranked opponent in January when she defeated Annie Mulholland of Duke. She and Vertesheva went 28-11 in doubles play, the best record on the team. Fujimoto’s efforts helped Indiana finish the season with a 16-11 record in dual meets, 4-7 in Big Ten play.
Last year, even with Fujimoto out for the season, the Hoosiers improved to 18-10 overall and 6-5 in league play. Fujimoto is hoping the team can do even better this year.
“Now it’s come full circle. I’m playing an individual sport, but in a team setting,” she said. “I really like playing here at IU. When you’re out playing, it’s not just for yourself, but for everyone else on the team, too.”
Fujimoto is majoring in exercise science.
She hopes to go into physical therapy after college, which may give her the opportunity to use her own experiences to help other athletes through the process of recovering from injuries – both physically and mentally.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To suggest local college athletes deserving of recognition, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.