By Five Boro Sports
Katherine Postel was ready to give it all up. The Mary Louis Academy senior, who is a superb soccer and softball player, was prepared to end her athletic career.
Last summer, Postel was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, a structural defect in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance. This occurs when the indented bony space at the lower rear of the skull is smaller than normal — the cerebellum and brainstem can be pushed downward. The resulting pressure on the cerebellum can block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.
“I was like, ‘Wow, how is that possible?’” close friend and TMLA softball teammate Jill Zic said. “She is young, a teenager. That is pretty serious stuff.”
Postel first felt symptoms playing soccer for the Jamaica Estates school in the fall of 2007. She said, the stress of the game would cause her brain to expand, putting pressure on nerves. Her arms would go numb and her fingers would begin to tingle. Postel’s doctor told her she could either opt for surgery or quit playing sports.
“I said, ‘No surgery,’” Postel said. “I wasn’t going to go through with it. I wouldn’t play sports. I went three months with no surgery and no playing sports and I realized I want to play the sports.”
She had a four-hour procedure to fix the problem in September. It caused her to miss a month and a half of school and her entire senior soccer season. Postel, who missed all of her junior softball season as tests were being done, said she came and watched a few soccer games, but was itching to play. Even though there was a chance she would need a second procedure if symptoms returned, her eyes were on softball season.
“I wasn’t actually expecting her to be on the team this year, but she worked so hard and she has really come through,” Mary Louis softball Coach Ginny Peiser said.
Postel knew she was going to be back when she started playing club soccer in December and January and the symptoms were mild and now gone. But she was still handled with kid gloves, as softball season started. Peiser would consult with Postel’s father, John, her assistant coach, on how much to push her. Early on, there was some uneasiness as she attempted to make certain plays.
“Every time she dives,” Zic said, “and goes head first into someone it’s, ‘Whew, OK’ and she gets up and just throws the ball right away.”
Now it’s the last thing on people’s minds.
“It feels like I never really had the surgery,” Postel said. “It’s just like, I am back in it, like nothing happened.”
Postel, who will play softball at Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx next season, is the Hilltoppers’ leadoff hitter and starting second baseman. The sure fielder is the spark plug of the offense. She has the ability to hit, bunt and beat out infield singles. Her speed is a weapon.
“She is the one who gets on base for us,” Zic said. “She starts it and we all follow.”
Postel is your prototypical lefty slap hitter — expect she is a natural righty.
When she was a freshman, Peiser turned her around and taught her to hit lefty to use her speed and increase her on-base percentage. The process certainly wasn’t easy and Peiser told her she could never go back to being a righty because her body would forget what they were training it to do. The season off as a junior forced to her to have to relearn things a bit, but she said she is most comfortable with it this season. The Hilltoppers are off to a 3-2 start in CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens.
“It was so confusing,” Postel said of the initial transition. “… This year was the most comfortable for me. I am getting on base more. I’m making contact better.”
Everything is better for Postel now, with the worst well behind her and a promising career ahead.
“I know now nothing is going to happen to me,” she said, “because this is probably the worst possible thing.”