Returning to volleyball a year after breaking 18 bones — including serious injuries to your spine, ribs, foot, tibia and fibula — would take a miracle.
But that’s what Miracle Martensen has done.
The Rock Island Alleman junior isn't doing much on the court yet with the Pioneers, but she has returned to being a member of the team this season despite being sidetracked by an incredible array of injuries last summer.
A derecho swept across the Quad-Cities on Aug. 10, 2020, destroying everything in its path with recorded wind speeds reaching up to 70 miles per hour. When it ended, the storm had caused over $11 billion in damages, the most expensive storm in U.S. history.
Martensen was driving that day, trying to get home safely before the storm arrived. When she got out of her car in her driveway, the top half of one of the four large pine trees in her yard broke off and fell, hitting Miracle with such force that her shoes flew off.
The seconds before and hours afterwards are still a blur to Miracle, but she was taken immediately by ambulance to a Davenport hospital. She eventually was transported by helicopter to Iowa City. The doctors there performed a spinal fusion and put a rod in her right leg.
She remained in the hospital for 15 days.
“The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital,” Martensen said. “I’m not sure the timeline of it, but I know I was in Iowa City. I didn’t even know what surgeries I had at that point or what day of the week it was.
“The next distinct memory was when they washed my head. I still had sticks and blood all in my hair.”
The injury to her spine was the most serious. The tree broke more than half of her spine, as well as five ribs, a compound fracture to her leg, her left scapula (shoulder blade) and four bones in her left foot. Martensen was immobile for two months, an athlete unable to even sit up to eat.
“When I got home I didn’t know how to walk,” she said. “I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom. I had to relearn how to do literally everything. I couldn’t even sit up. I had to learn how to lift things, how to basically just move my body.”
The rehab process started slowly. Martensen's first steps would be getting out of bed. Her doctors wanted her to get out of bed twice a day as her spine started to heal. The process was made more difficult by the fact that she had a boot on her right leg and a cast on her left. The experience was both frustrating and discouraging.
“My doctors were definitely very positive, but I did not believe them at all,” Martensen said. “I was a Debbie Downer for sure. I did not want to do anything. I just wanted my body to do its thing and I did not want to work for it that first month. It really sucked."
“After that, I started to gain motivation the more I saw myself getting better. I was finally starting to be able to do normal things.”
She was in a wheelchair for two months, but it was almost six months later that she said her family would trust her to walk without falling and getting hurt. The long recovery process changed everything in her life.
“I didn’t drive from August until January,” Martensen said. “That’s when I started learning again. Now it doesn’t affect me much, but back then I had to relearn how to do everything. Just trusting my leg to work right was scary.”
It also changed her school life. The transition to online classes because of COVID-19 actually helped her because she was able to do many classes from bed.
“I couldn’t take very many classes last year because I couldn’t sit up,” Martensen said. “I definitely missed out on my whole sophomore year. This year being back and having to walk that much in a day, every day, is definitely hard. It’s taken a toll on my body.”
Martensen was unable to attend a single day in school her sophomore year, but in the summer she began going back to volleyball practice. She did this despite a noticeable limp and an inability to jump.
Alleman coach Morgan DeBruine has been amazed.
“I don’t think many people have the strength to go out and try something where they know that you’re at a disadvantage from something you can’t control,'' DeBruine said. "This happened to her. It’s not like she is incapable. She is very capable. That’s why this is so heartbreaking to watch.”
Martensen hasn’t let that stop her.
Many on the team recognize her as the vocal leader and even when she can’t do a drill, she will do a similar drill that caters to her temporary abilities. She was only one of two girls on varsity to miss two or fewer summer workouts.
“She is here at every practice and does every bit of conditioning that we do,” DeBruine said. “She is also one of the only players that seems to have a personal relationship with every player. She is always yelling funny things or making weird sounds to get the girls to laugh. She is cheering everyone on at practice like it’s a game. She is inspiring. She has one of those personalities we desperately need.”
The work she has gotten in at volleyball practice has actually helped getting her mobility back, in addition to physical therapy. For now, Martensen goes through the team’s pregame warmups and sits on the bench in uniform, but is unable to play.
Miracle’s goal is to return to the court next season. But surgeries still remain.
Her left foot still gives her trouble. She damaged a joint and broke four of the five metatarsals, the long bones that connect toes to the foot. And the rod in her right leg still needs to be removed.
That won’t stop Martensen, though. Her love for the game and being around her teammates keeps her motivated.
“Being in a volleyball environment just makes me happy,” she said. “I love playing and being with my team. The sport lifts my spirits and when those are lifted, I want to recover even more.”
While it has been a long journey, and there are still stops on the way, Martensen said she has taken a lot from the accident that changed her life.
“I’m definitely very positive about it now," she said. "I think it helped me a lot mentally just to realize that you can’t take things for granted. You have to push yourself if you want something.
"You won’t get something if you don’t work for it.”