Pain & Persistence
The scars are there. You can see them. You can't help but see them.
You can see them because its been one of the few days as of late nice enough to wear shorts.
You can see them through the countless smaller scars left by floor burns acquired while diving for loose balls and raspberries from sliding into second in little league baseball.
You can see them through the myriad of mosquito bites compliments of a track that might as well double as mosquito breeding ground.
You can see them because you are looking for them and glimpses of the damage left from the two surgeries that caused them. There is one on each knee, the scar on the left knee is a little darker since its newer.
You can see the two scars on Kim Berg's knees, they are grim reminders of anterior cruciate ligament surgeries, but they are also reminders of what might have been and what might still be.
She doesn't need to see the scars to be reminded, the left knee still has a little lingering pain there. It's that pain that has annoyed her this season far worse than any mosquito could. Because it isn't letting her be herself, which is one of the best javelin throwers the state of Montana has produced. And for Berg that's simply unacceptable.
"I need to just forget about it," Berg says staring down at the culprit. "But it's always right there in the back of my mind."
A brilliant beginning
It was all so perfect a few years ago, as a true freshman for KG's track team, Berg didn't just break the school's record in the javelin, she destroyed it with the distance growing further every time she competed. When it was all over, she had thrown 137 feet during the season and placed fifth at the Class C state meet with a toss of 121-11.
People couldn't help but predict great things for Berg. She was a multi-sport star, who was a tireless worker and a top student.
And Berg didn't disappoint, a year later she claimed the state title in the javelin and along the way notched a throw of 149 feet, which was good enough to rank her in the top 10 in the country.
But she wasn't just a javelin thrower, she was a complete athlete, competing in the jumps, the 400 and the KouGar relay teams. Don't forget about volleyball and basketball for the KouGars, she played those too. The only sport she didn't play was baseball, anymore that is. There are some rumors of her prowess as a pitcher in little league.
The first obstacle
With all of those games and meets, drives to the basket, leaps for spikes and countless leaps, jumps and throws on the track, Berg was looking like she was invincible. When really, she was anything but.
According to Berg, she suffered from loose ligaments which allowed her knees to hyperextend, or bend backward on different occasions.
"It was pretty nasty," she says with a laugh.
It got nastier. During basketball season in her junior year, her right knee bent back a little too far, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament. It was scary indeed. For a superior athlete to face their first brush with mortality it can be downright terrifying.
"It was hard," Berg admits. "I never though it could ever happen to me."
Berg had surgery on Oct. 6 and made it back for the second half of volleyball season where she was only allowed to serve.
If the injury had any effect on her track performance, it didn't show up in the javelin. She won her second-straight title, throwing 140-5 which was a all-class record with new modified javelin. The only change in track was that she was pretty much limited to javelin. The running and jumping were distant memories.
"I miss the jumping, I loved to jump," she says wistfully. "It was so much fun."
With her first knee surgery behind her, and the knee stronger than it had ever been in the past, Berg was ready to focus all of her attention on her senior year. There was volleyball and basketball and a third title to win in track.
More to overcome
But another year brought another obstacle. This time it was the left knee, it bent back in a way it shouldn't during volleyball, leaving Berg in a crumpled heap on the gym floor. As people comforted her, they tried to tell her it wasn't that bad and she'd be fine. Berg knew otherwise.
"I knew exactly what happened," Berg says her voice growing quiet. "Everyone tried to tell me it wasn't that bad, but I knew it was. I wasn't scared because I'd been through it before."
Yes, she knew about the surgery, the rehab and the brace that would come in the following weeks. But there is no way Berg could have predicted what lay ahead in track season.
She didn't get to finish volleyball season which was tough, especially when the KouGars made it to divisionals for the first time in her four years. All she could do was keep book and that was downright unbearable.
"It wasn't very fun," Berg said. "I wanted to be out there and contributing really bad."
Instead she could only cheer from the bench, it would be the same for basketball. She could only watch and wait. While a part of her ached with agony during a KouGar loss, another part of her burned for track season in the spring. That was her sport. The leg would be better just like last year and she would make it three straight state titles and maybe even get that elusive 150-foot mark that eluded her in the past three years. No more of this watching from the side and cheering junk.
A painful discovery
But it wasn't anything like last year. Berg's first injury happened on her right knee which was her drive knee. The effects of surgery weren't that bad on the right knee. She was able to still drive with full force off of it. But the left knee, that was a different story. The left leg is Berg's plant leg. The leg that takes all of the pressure, torque and momentum generated by her sprint down the runway as she lets go of the javelin. The leg is supposed to be planted hard and stay straight and stiff as the javelin leaves her hand.
"I don't think Kim realized how much this last injury would affect her," says head coach Butch Marshall. "There is so much forced placed on that left knee, that it kept her from what she's used to doing.
What she was used to doing was throwing the javelin better than anyone else. Berg simply couldn't do it. Yes, she was still winning meets, but tosses of 120 feet brought anger, not happiness.
Wearing a bulky brace, she couldn't straighten the knee out when she planted, the brace wouldn't allow it. And then there was the pain. By any athlete's standards, she is pretty tough. But early in the season, after competing in the qualifying throws and then the finals and the shot put, Berg would be noticeably limping around the meet later in the day.
"It was a little tougher than I thought it would be," Berg admits. "Because my first injury didn't really affect me that much. But this injury really does. My leg just hasn't gotten as strong as fast as my other one did."
There are some factors, one of which Berg admits, is not working hard enough to get it stronger.
"I don't think I worked hard enough after the surgery," she says. "I needed to lift more weights and run more."
For Berg to own up to not working hard enough, is about as comfortable as having a javelin impaled in your foot.
She is still only a teenager and the pain and fear that comes with not one, but two major surgeries is expected. Even now that her doctor has told her to take the brace off because the knee is strong enough, Berg still has her doubts.
"I still baby it sometimes," she says of the left knee. "It's better without the brace. With the brace on, I was constantly thinking about it. Now sometimes I forget about it if the brace isn't there. But it's still there."
"It's her leg that keeps her from being really, really aggressive," Marshall says. "Somewhere in the back of her mind she still has the idea that it's going to hurt if she does something wrong."
One last time
With only days before this weekend's Class C State Track meet, Berg is at peace a little with everything that has happened. She has committed to Montana State University to throw javelin. It's a prospect that has her very excited.
"I love Bozeman," she says. "I met all the coaches and all the throwers. Both my parents went there and so did my grandfather. I've always liked Bozeman."
Her parents, Craig and Sue, will be there this weekend as she goes for her third-straight title. They are constants at most meets and in her life.
"My mom and dad hate missing my meets," Berg says. "My mom drove all the way down to divisionals (Great Falls) to watch me throw and had to turn around and go back to work for a meeting. I told her she could miss, but she gets upset when she misses.
"My dad really pushes me a lot. He is the one who pushes me to work out and get my leg stronger and he helps me when I throw. They have both really supported me through all of this."
A perfect thank-you for all the support would be one last title in her senior year. She will have her competition though. Heather Schwartz from Lima has thrown over 140 this year, as has another competitor.
"I need to just forget about my knee and plant on it like normal, and not wrap my javelin around my body so it comes off the side," Berg said.
That is from a technical aspect. But there is even a simpler need for Berg when it comes to this weekend, it is simply to enjoy competing.
"I'm so competitive, I'm probably too competitive at times," Berg says. "I get so mad at myself if I don't throw good or what I expect to throw, sometimes I get so mad I actually throw worse."
Thankfully, Berg will bring teammate Sasha Haugen along to keep her cool. Haugen has a variety of methods to keep her teammate's spirit up. Whether it's positive talk, simple reminder or if need be, Haugen will tackle Berg to the ground for a little reality break.
"She makes me smile and laugh," Berg says with a giggle. "You need that balance"
And maybe that's been missing most from Berg in the javelin. The smile of an athlete enjoying what they're doing.
"I need to have fun," Berg says staring at the left knee again. "I haven't had that much fun, this year has been pretty stressful. I think I've been trying a little too hard."
Marshall believes she will do it, he speaks of a time when everything will come together, the form, the leg, the aggressiveness and the mark. Hopefully, it will be this weekend.
It could happen. Berg is too good, too competitive to let something like a couple of scars and a little pain get in her way.
Regardless of whether she is atop the medal stand or not, the two scars on Kim Berg's knees will not go away. They will be there always as reminders. Reminders not of what she could have done, but what she has overcome.