Beyond the Game update: UCA athlete who returned from brain surgery honored with award

UCA senior Kelsey Johnson (KATV Photo)

UCA soccer player Kelsey Johnson, who courageously returned to the field following brain surgery, was named the female recipient of the 2016-17 Steve McCarty Citizenship Award, the Southland Conference announced on Wednesday.

The award recognizes male and female athletes who exhibit outstanding qualities in citizenship, sportsmanship, leadership and community service. She will be honored at the annual Southland Conference Honors Dinner and Ceremony at the Westin Stonebriar Hotel in Frisco on May 23rd.

Johnson, a native of Tomball, Texas, spent four years as a defender/midfielder for the Bears. Following a car accident in the spring of 2016, Johnson continued to experience headaches in the week following a crash. Assuming she had whiplash, Johnson spoke with UCA athletic trainer Aaron Smith, who recommended she visit the emergency room as a precaution. Fearing a concussion due to soccer activities, the ER doctor ordered an MRI, which revealed a tumor the size of a golf ball in her left frontal lobe. Johnson had surgery to remove the tumor in May, followed by rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. In spite of going through those treatments during the summer, she worked out all summer with the goal of passing her physical test and gaining medical clearance to return to the field for her senior season.

After finishing a round of chemotherapy on a Wednesday, Johnson arrived in Conway on Thursday, and accomplished the first of her goals on Saturday, passing her fitness test, but was unfortunately not cleared medically for contact. Despite the set-back, Johnson spent the fall working out with the team, participating in practice and weight training while being one of the most vocal players on the Bears’ sideline during matches.

Johnson made one appearance during her senior season, starting in Central Arkansas’ regular season finale against Northwestern State. She played one minute and completed one pass, finishing the season with a pass completed percentage of 100%.

Her story - and the incredible moment of her return - was documented in this Beyond the Game story.

“This is a great honor for Kelsey, and she’s very deserving of it,” said UCA head coach Jeremy Bishop. “The way she handled this situation has been such an inspiration to our team, athletic department, conference, and community. To be able to deal with the diagnosis, surgery, radiation, and chemo treatments, and still stay positive and work as hard as she did is amazing. I am extremely proud of her and her dedication to our program; she is a great example of perseverance and determination.”

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