Oct. 7, 2011
By John Holt
It’s a reality in sports these days: A star athlete gets injured and misses a significant amount of time.
While injuries have always been a part of sports, some, have the ability to make an individual athlete stronger whereas in other instances the athlete is never quite the same.
Just ask Ole Miss rifle sophomore Alivia Yeager.
While attending Seneca High School in her hometown, Louisville, Ky., (just nine months before she would arrive at Ole Miss), Yeager underwent oral and maxillofacial surgery, which today, has changed her outlook on her sport as well as, life.
“You’re not looking at my real face,” Yeager said. “My face used to be round and looked like a baby’s face. It was round and pudgy. The doctors went in and broke both of my jaws, the bottom, and the top. The top part of your jaw is part of your skull, which plenty of people, don’t even realize. They had to move them around, position them and screw them back together. I also have a fake chin.”
The surgery is defined as one that is supposed to correct a wide spectrum of diseases, injuries and defects in the head, neck, face, jaws and the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region.
While braces usually can solve the problem for many maxillofacial cases, Yeager’s was so unique and severe that going through the surgery appeared to be the only option.
“It wasn’t completely necessary for me to have the surgery but the doctors told me that later in life I would have lots of problems with it if I didn’t get the surgery done early,” Yeager said. “I definitely wanted to get it done before I came to school here.”
HIGH SCHOOL STANDOUT
Prior to the surgery, Yeager was excelling and constantly improving in her sport. While Yeager’s mother Julie, a dance instructor, tried to get her daughter into the ballroom scene, Alivia decided to go a different route and started shooting at the age of 14 because her father Ray owned a gun range.
After just six months of shooting, Yeager was producing scores that were at a national level. During her high school career she was a three-time Kentuckiana Rifle Conference Champion and four-time MVP. Even 2011 NCAA Rifle Champion Kentucky began to take interest in her.
Yeager stated however, that the Ole Miss campus was the number one factor in her decision to commit to the club’s rifle program over the second school on her list, Murray State.
While she did commit to the Rebels before her surgery occurred, Ole Miss head rifle coach Valerie Boothe stated that she never lost belief in Yeager as a shooter.
“I knew Alivia was a hard worker and had the patience and diligence to put the time in,” Boothe said. “I knew she was going to work to get back to where she was. It crossed my mind that she would have trouble, but it didn’t cross my mind that she wouldn’t get back there.”
Current teammate, sophomore Abbey Stanec, has known Yeager since their days in high school rifling and described Yeager’s comeback journey as remarkable.
“The surgery it really changed her,” Stanec said. “She was always really involved in shooting and then for awhile, it was like she dropped off the face of the earth. Everyone was like ‘Where is Alivia?’ Then we found out she had surgery and then she came back, and wasn’t shooting the scores she had before. But we all could definitely tell (surgery) had affected her because your cheek piece in rifling is a whole big part of shooting.”
Today Yeager, a managerial finance major, estimated she is shooting at around 85 percent, compared to the level where she was two years ago.
Despite not having been 100 percent at any point during her brief collegiate career thus far, Yeager still was able to post the second best air rifle average (582.7) on the entire Rebels roster last season as a freshman.
“She’s very independent and mature, and knows what she needs to do to improve” assistant coach Natasha Dinsmore said. “She puts it on herself to make the changes that are necessary.”
POSITIVE SIGNS AHEAD
Aside from shooting, Yeager received news last week that she has been selected to be an intern for Disney’s College Program this spring at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
She applied for the position last month and received an email stating she had been chosen. During the six-month internship she will be working at one of the restaurants in one of Disney’s Park’s. Yet she won’t know all of her job tasks or responsibilities until she arrives on February 20.
“I figured this internship would be a great opportunity and I’ve always loved Disney World,” Yeager said.
Since she has decided to accept the internship position, Yeager must take a minimum of twelve hours of online credits next semester in order to remain eligible by NCAA rules.
This year’s NCAA Rifle Championships begin on March 8. Yeager said the team has already been in contact with Ole Miss Athletic Director Pete Boone about contacting Disney to ask if Yeager can be let off to join her teammates, and participate in the Championships if the Rebels do in fact, qualify.
“This says a lot for our team and a lot for our University that Alivia got this,” Dinsmore said. “We’re real excited that she’s going to be able to do both for the team.”
Meanwhile Stanec added with a smile, “I’m so proud of Alivia because it has been tough on her but things are now really coming together for her.”