Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy Bowen Arrow Photography Val Leininger injured her brain in a crash.

  • Leininger

Monday, August 21, 2017 1:00 am

After brain injury, player hopes to return

Josh Patterson | For The Journal Gazette

They say you never forget your first time doing something.

Val Leininger doesn't even remember hers.

Dec. 16 started out as a normal Friday for Leininger. The then-Angola freshman had made plans to go snowmobiling for the first time, then watch the Hornets boys basketball team play Westview at home. She never made it back to school that night.

Approaching a hill while riding, another snowmobile crested that same hill from the opposite direction and the two vehicles collided nearly head-on. Riding as a passenger, Leininger was thrown about 16 feet, suffering a broken blood vessel in her brain that required eight weeks of hospitalization.

Had she not been wearing a helmet, her injuries could have been much worse, or even fatal.

“I can only remember the first period of (school) that day,” Leininger said. 

The accident has put what Leininger hopes is only a temporary stop to her soccer career for the Hornets.

Playing outside midfielder, she started the 2016 season on the junior varsity squad before moving up to varsity. Her tenacity and coachability most impressed Angola coach Jen Sharkey.

“She's small but mighty,” Sharkey said. “She works hard and mixes it up with the other players. She was always willing to learn and ask questions.”

Leininger has continued on with the Angola soccer program, currently serving as team manager, assisting the coaching staff with duties along with interacting with her teammates.

It's a role Leininger hopes is temporary.

“It's a different role for her, a different perspective, but it's everything she can make it to,” Sharkey said. “Her one request to me this summer was that she could keep her jersey number.”

Her recovery continues, though Leininger says she's back to about 85 percent of her full athletic ability. Impressive, especially considering that after the crash, she had to retrain her brain how to walk, how to move.

The doctors have cleared her for most physical activities, like running and swimming. If she does play soccer again, she'll have to wear headgear to guard against additional brain trauma.

“(The accident) affected her entire ability to do what we take for granted,” Sharkey said.

Although Leininger's cognition was largely unaffected in the crash, she explained that fatigue comes easily during classes now. Her doctors advised that getting worn down in school is common as the brain continues to heal.

Some teachers have taken steps to guard against that as much as possible. For example, one teacher will have students write things down for Leininger. She will then type the words later so that her hands don't get tired.

As soon as was allowed, Leininger's soccer teammates traveled to Fort Wayne to visit her in the hospital.

The team also put together care packages and has followed her progress through the Caring Bridge website, an online journal where those dealing with health conditions can advise others of progress.

All the support was not lost on Leininger.

“I just feel like I need to do more for them because they supported me so much through the accident,” Leininger said. “They wrote all sorts of nice notes and they got me a bunch of blankets.”

The crash will remain in Leininger's memory – at least what she's been told about it.

As for photos of the crash, they're available, and in due time she'll take a look at them.

“I can't be sad about (the crash),” Leininger said. “I want to see (pictures), and they offered to show me. They probably are scared to show me, because they don't want me to be afraid. It'll be in my memories for the rest of my life.”