The quiet, polite demeanor of junior Andrea Rognlien covers up her difficult past. Simply looking at or talking to the stand-out Concordia tennis player would not reveal that she is barely a year removed from a life-threatening medical situation.
“It was really devastating because tennis is a big part of my life, and it was frustrating knowing I could lose all of that,” Rognlien said.
Rognlien began tennis at the young age of 11. She immediately excelled at the sport, and it was not long before she played in her first high school tennis tournament—placing in the state tournament three times.
Rognlien then brought her talents to Concordia College, somewhere she simply “thought would be a good place to go.”
“It was a little intense at first,” she said. “It was such a different level of competition than high school. It was definitely a learn-as-you-go thing.”
Rognlien’s doubles partner, junior Katie Edin, explained her early impressions of competing alongside her.
“Andrea is, in one word, intense,” Edin said. “She is definitely passionate about tennis. But off-court she’s a normal girl—no attitude or anything.”
Tennis head coach Troy Hanestad also recalled the first time he met Rognlien.
“She was a little shy, but very kind, humble and respectful,” Hanestad said. “The first time I watched her compete I knew that she was capable of having an outstanding college tennis career. She is a very focused, disciplined and committed player.”
As her sophomore year began, Rognlien played well as she found success during a fall tournament in which she beat the top-ranked player in the second round.
However, Rognlien’s health took a turn for the worse just before the regular season.
“When we went to play our first match of the season, my arm was swollen and blue,” Rognlien said. “Coach sent me to the emergency room, but they couldn’t find anything. So I went back to play again, but the same issue came up.”
Edin recalls how alarming it was to see Rognlien‘s symptoms.
“You could see from across the court that her arm was blue,” she said.
Rognlien went back to the doctor hoping for answers. What she got was not what she expected.
Rognlien had a blood clot in her shoulder, also called effort-induced thrombosis. This was a result of her clavicle and upper ribs compressing her subclavian vein—a condition called thoracic outlet syndrome. It would require surgery and the removal of her first rib. The condition could have spelled the end of tennis for Rognlien.
Yet Hanestad had a different concern upon hearing the news of Rognlien’s situation.
“I had many thoughts when we learned that Andrea had a blood clot, but most did not relate to tennis,” he said. “The team and I were concerned about Andrea’s health and her well-being.”
And at the same time the concern of Rognlien’s health loomed overhead, the tennis team struggled to forge ahead without their number one player.
Senior Amy Luther, teammate and friend to Rognlien, recalled the difference in the team make-up after losing her.
“For the team it was a huge blow,” she said. “Everyone had to adjust, and coach had to look further in the line-up to fill positions.”
The season finished without Rognlien, and come May, she was in surgery to have her first rib removed. The surgery appeared to go well, and Rognlien was allowed back home.
“After surgery it was a matter of when I could go back to tennis,” Rognlien said. “It was also a matter of if tennis would come back to me, if I could pick it up again. Not knowing was hard to deal with.”
But all thoughts of returning to tennis were quickly erased when a difficult situation turned worse.
“After I had my rib removed, two days later, there were complications,” Rognlien said. “I wasn’t able to breathe well, so we went back to the emergency room. They found out that my right lung had collapsed. There was blood around my lung, so they rushed me to the Mayo Clinic.”
At that point Rognlien began to wonder things other than when she would be able to return to tennis.
“When I had to be taken back it wasn’t so much a question of ‘Am I going to play tennis again?’ It was a question of ‘Am I going to live?” she said.
Fortunately, Rognlien was able to recover, and it was not long until her thoughts turned back to the court. After three months, Rognlien was practicing lightly.
Hanestad recognized the difficulty for Rognlien to not push herself too hard, but focused more on the positive.
“It was a time that allowed her and I to have many discussions related to faith and God’s plan for Andrea’s life,” he said. “I know Andrea would rather never have gone through this, but I believe it strengthened her faith and gave her a new appreciation for life and tennis.”
After about a month of careful practice, Rognlien began to progress and perform as she had hoped. She only recently began to compete again after nearly a year and a half without playing a match for the Concordia tennis team. Her first match back was on Feb. 13th, which she characterized as difficult.
“It was hard to get back in that competitive mindset,” she said. “I was so nervous about playing again. But I was able to win that match, and fighting through that gave me confidence when I didn’t really have any. And that will help me the most—just to play matches.”
As she continues to progress, Rognlien sees good and bad in her performances.
“I’m practicing well, but it’s that transition to play that is difficult for me,” she said. “And closing out matches is still a big struggle.”
And regardless of the struggles, Hanestad continues to like what he sees.
“As I watched Andrea practice this fall and at the beginning of this team season, I felt as though she was hitting the ball well and playing better than ever,” he said.
Her teammates also see her progress, and some even find inspiration in it. Luther is one such teammate.
“I love her drive,” she said. “She pushes me because I see her intensity. I mean, I know a lot of people that would sit back and be over-cautious. I don’t think that is in Andrea.”
Edin too admires that Rognlien has “kept it together coming back.”
Looking to the future, Rognlien keeps her expectations simple and humble.
“One of my goals is to make all-conference again,” she said. “But I don’t really have any expectations because I don’t feel that I’m back to my old self, in terms of what I can be.”
Hanestad, however, thinks bigger for Rognlien.
“I believe Andrea is capable of winning the National Tournament,” he said bluntly.
But regardless of what her future holds, Rognlien looks back on her experiences triumphantly, albeit quietly and humbly, too.
“I love tennis, and so I know I was going to do whatever it takes to get back to tennis,” she said. “You just have to have faith in yourself that you can get back to where you were.”
Bobby Brunhuber is a sophomore from Backus, Minn. studying English-Writing and Global Studies, with minors in Sociology and Spanish. He is a Sports Writer for the 2010-2011 Concordian. Bobby’s idol is Indiana Jones. He is an avid soccer fan, has an irrational fear of snakes, and an irrational obsession with LOST.