There’s been no shortage of inspirational tales within the Nixa girls basketball program over the past five years.
The recent medical hardships that cost Kelsey Biro her senior season last winter and likely will keep Emily Edwards courtside as a senior next winter fall in line with the career of 2014 grad Sydney Hammit.
As Biro bounces back from hip surgery to begin her career at Henderson State (Arkansas) and Edwards adapts to life with a heart defibrillator and serves as a student-assistant for the Lady Eagles, they can always turn to Hammit’s story for motivation.
One of the the more somber stories in Nixa’s hardwood history has transformed into a feel-good story for the ages, culminating in Hammit ending her track career at Arkansas last month as part of the Lady Razorbacks’ NCAA Outdoor Championships title team.
“It was exciting to be part of,” Hammit said. “My freshman year was the first time we won a national title. I was injured and red-shirting that year. It was exciting to see the girls win the title. I wanted to be a part of that. Being healthy and to be able to win it again my senior year is a perfect ending.
“What better way to go out than winning the national title and to do with all my best friends?”
Hammit has certainly come a long way from the can’t-miss basketball prospect who, due to four knee surgeries, missed more games than she played at Nixa. Competing in track at a national championship level in college seemed improbable five years ago. After all, in addition to her knee surgeries, her high school track career as a Lady Eagle consisted of all of three meets.
If Nixa’s Class of 2014 holds a five-year reunion this summer, Hammit will hold their attention with her update. Even classmates who have kept in touch with her are amazed at what she’s done in college.
“A lot of people say, ‘We can’t believe you’re even walking after all the knee surgeries you had,’” Hammit said. “I also have had people tell me they’re not really surprised because they thought if anyone would be able to do something like this, they expected it to be me.”
Once Hammit stepped away from hoops due to the four surgeries, all to her right knee, she was compelled to give track a try in college. It figured her knee would hold up in track better because there is no lateral movement. Also, what little track experience she had was full of success.
“I ran in junior high and did pretty well. I didn’t lose in junior high, so I knew I was OK at track,” Hammit said. “But basketball was my passion and what I wanted to do. When I medically retired from basketball, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do.”
Hammit’s faith remained strong throughout all her rehabs and her “leap of faith,” as she called it, was rewarded mightily to jump-start her career at Arkansas.
“Jesus opened the doors for me to run track at Arkansas,” Hammit said. “There’s no other way to describe it. I got offered by MSU for track. But I didn’t feel that was a perfect for me. I e-mailed coach (Lance) Harter at Arkansas and went there for a visit. I wasn’t even walking, after my fourth surgery, when I went for my visit. I told him that when I was in junior high I ran a 12.6 (100), a 26-flat (200) and a 60-flat (400).
“He said, ‘If you were able to do that when you were 13 years old, you have potential and we think we could work with you.’ Coach Harter took a chance on me and welcomed me with open arms.”
Hammit initially wasn’t cleared to compete by Arkansas’ athletic surgeon.
“I failed physicals and he told me I would never be able to run again,” Hammit said. “But I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t think so.’ I finally got released (to compete) and thought, ‘Well, we’ll see if the knee holds up.’ It was worth it for me to try. The Lord had a plan. Thankfully, things worked out and I was able to compete.”
Hammit was so new to track she wasn’t even sure what event she should try to make her niche.
“My red-shirt sophomore year when I was healthy, I went to the coaches and asked what do they think I’d be best at,” Hammit said. “They said I had speed, but wasn’t quick enough out of the blocks to be a short sprinter. They said, ‘Let’s try the 400 and see if you have the speed to hold on.’ I said, ‘Let’s got for it and see how it works.’ Since I was still learning, I didn’t have amazing, super-fast times at first.
“I knew that wasn’t where I wanted to be,” she added. “I kept working at it, trusting that my times would drop. I ended up dropping four seconds off my time from my freshman year and was able to make the the SEC roster. I didn’t realize then how hard it was to drop that much time. A tenth of a second is actually a huge deal.”
Hammit set her personal record of :53.15 this year, as she took eighth at the SEC Indoor Championships. It ranked 23rd nationally during the indoor season.
“Going from :58 to :53.15 was definitely a process,” she said.
Hammit has earned a degree in communication disorders and is attending graduate school at Arkansas. She may pursue a career as a speech pathologist, but isn’t sure what path she will take, yet. One could easily envision her as a motivational speaker. Hammit’s communication skills are exceptional enough and her story so inspirational that she was asked by Arkansas’ athletic department to share her journey in her words for publication. Media outlets throughout Arkansas picked up her story.
When she does reflect, Hammit couldn’t be happier that she endured more than her share of adversity to make the rewards even more gratifying. Helping her through it all were her parents, Stacey and Carrie, and her brothers, Brock and Brett, along with her unyielding faith in God.
“I always knew I could rely on my faith and my family,” Sydney said. “I’m thankful for the surgeries actually. They taught me a lot of life lessons. They taught me about perseverance, work ethic and the ability to be resilient regardless of the circumstance. Things in life are not always going to be easy.
“It would be easy to get pulled the other way to the ‘Why me?’ attitude. I didn’t think, ‘Why me?’” she added. “The Lord’s strength is shown greatest in times of weakness. I was thankful for the opportunities to show His strength. Even if I never would have made it to SECs or Nationals, I was going to be content because I had the faith to accomplish things.”