The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 24, 2013

Sobczak's road to recovery ends in goal

GAC goalie gets first start since horrific 2012 crash

By Shane Frederick sfrederick@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — Marah Sobczak probably shouldn’t have been starting in goal for the Gustavus Adolphus women’s hockey team on Saturday afternoon.

She probably shouldn’t have been in a pair of skates. She’s fortunate to be back going to school at Gustavus.

“She’s a determined young lady,” her mother, Robin Sobczak said. “She doesn’t do things 100 percent; with her it’s always 150 percent. She did this to prove to herself that she could come back.”

Fifteen months ago, doctors didn’t know if Sobczak would walk again — or if she’d even live.

But there she was, stopping 12 of 13 shots, playing steady enough in a close MIAC game at the Don Roberts Ice Rink to help the sixth-ranked Gusties defeat Hamline 4-1.

“Obviously, it’s a miracle that she’s even out for hockey,” Gusties coach Mike Carroll said.

This was no charity case, either. Sobczak, a senior, deserved the start, Carroll said. She’s been practicing well this fall and looked good in a couple of relief opportunities this season, including 6 1/2 minutes of action on Friday night.

“It felt good playing start to finish and helping the team win,” Sobczak said.

If it were only that simple.

On Aug. 28, 2012, Sobczak was driving on Highway 5 in Lake Elmo toward home to Stillwater after a shopping trip with her sister Kalley when an oncoming car crossed into their lane and caused a high-speed, head-on collision.

The sisters were critically injured with broken legs and bones and other internal injuries and underwent several surgeries in the days following the crash. There were countless hours of rehabilitation and physical therapy in the months afterward.

“That first night in the hospital, they couldn’t tell us if (Marah) was alive,” her mother, Robin Sobczak said between periods Saturday. “After a week in the hospital, they couldn’t tell us if she would ever walk.”

Wearing a Gustavus hockey jersey adorned with her daughter’s No. 35, Robin Sobczak called Marah’s start on Saturday “a huge milestone.”

“A year ago, we were trying to get her walking,” she said. “This is something I never thought could happen.”

But Marah and her sister, who is a junior a Stillwater High School, recovered faster than doctors expected. By last Thanksgiving, Marah was starting to walk again. In February, she returned to class at Gustavus where she had a 3.858 GPA as physics major in her first three years at the college.

This fall, she approached Carroll about being part of the team again, perhaps as a team manager or as a practice goalie.

Carroll told her she should try out.

“There were no expectations,” he said. “She just wanted to be part of it.”

Before the first preseason captains practice, Marah called home in tears. Robin Sobczak feared that she suffered a major setback with one of her injuries. Turned out, Marah had just forgotten her skates.

“That was the biggest hurdle,” Marah said with a laugh. “But I felt like I could do it. I wanted to be part of the team, and obviously they said yes. I’m extremely lucky.”

Under her goalie gear, Sobczak is full of metal. She has a titanium rod in her left femur and another in her right tibia. She has a plate on her wrist and more on her face.

Sobczak, who appeared in 16 games in her first two seasons with the Gusties, called home Saturday morning to tell her family that she’d be starting. When her name was announced before the game, Robin said, “It was the best Christmas present I could ever have.”

The lone goal Sobczak gave up on Saturday was a power-play goal early in the third period that made it 1-1. But Leah Johnson, Halie Gudmonson and Melissa Doyle opened up the game with goals after that.

The Gusties’ Krystal Baumann broke a scoreless tie with a power-play goal midway through the second period. Carolyn Draayer had two assists for the Gusties, who outshot the Pipers 41-13.

“It’s great for her and great for her family,” Carroll said of Sobczak. “It’s great for the kids on our team, too. A lot of them have played with her for a long time.”

Robin Sobczak said Kalley still walks with pain and hasn’t returned to playing sports. Likely there are more surgeries in the future for both sisters.

In August of this year the driver of the other vehicle, 47-year-old Jon Ross Wentz of St. Paul, was charged with six felony counts of criminal vehicular operation and one gross misdemeanor count of DWI.