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By: Cailyn Schroeder
March 2016, I should have been competing in our outdoor track season. As a D1 collegiate athlete there is nothing that messes with you more than having to sit out an entire season, let alone your second missed season due to injury. My hip labrum was torn and I wasn’t able to throw the hammer or the weight. Going in for surgery I knew my chances of competing the next season in January were slim to none, let alone being able to hunt that fall.
About 8 weeks out of surgery something wasn’t right. At exactly 12 weeks post-op I went under for hip surgery #2 to repair the hole that developed in my joint capsule. That spring I had drawn an either sex permit for a game range out here in Montana. Hunting season was only 4 and a half months away and I was not about to eat that tag without trying. By the time the crutches came off it was only 3 months away. The physical therapy was a long process. I remember trying to take my first steps without crutches, taking one step and then collapsing down into the bed unable to stand. I was devastated that it wasn’t going to happen. Three months left and I couldn’t even walk on my own – how would it be possible? When you spend over an hour letting someone else move your leg for you, you definitely don’t picture yourself dragging your elk out in a matter of weeks. For days on end workouts consisted of standing there trying to lift my leg, or doing countless glute bridges until I was bored out of my mind. Fortunately though I had that neon yellow strip of waxy paper with notches waiting to be cut out to use as motivation.
Being a student athlete you don’t get much free time. Half of the year even our weekends are taken up by the sport, and you would be a fool to think that you were ever able to miss a day, even in the off season. Indoor track starts in January, so during the Montana big game season (mid-October through Thanksgiving weekend) workouts are usually the final heavy lifts and intense practices to get us as strong as possible before the season. It’s generally a blessing because you’re in pretty good shape going into hunting season, but in 2016 that was not the case for me. I was happy just to be pushing weight around even though it was only upper body. Once I was cleared to be in the weight room my workouts consisted of upper body laying down with my knees bent to create more stability. Eventually I was able to work up to pulling a sled via a belt strapped around my waist and I would march up and down that turf strip in our weight room for what seemed like hours. Tons of single leg stability and balancing were also on tap for workouts each day. Hands down those exercises are what got me ready to hunt in time.
The third to last day of the big game season, after celebrating thanksgiving in the camper, the hunting crew was sitting around deciding everyone’s plan of attack for the next morning. I decided to hike back in a few miles to a spot where we routinely see the elk cross each morning. My dad and I got to there before shooting light and sure enough about 7 head of cow elk come down through the timber, staying just hidden enough to avoid a shot. They circled back up further so I hustled to cut them off at the crossing point. The same situation happened again. After all of the action subsided we started up the game trail that they had come down from. We posted up under some trees and started glassing. I had already laid my rifle next to me, started glassing, and got out something to snack on while we scanned the mountain sides. Next thing I know, my dad whispers “Cailyn… elk.” In a normal voice I ask him where, thinking that they are on a ridge close by and we are going to put a move on them. Turns out a cow had walked out about 50-75 yards from where we were sitting. She knew we were there before we saw her and she didn’t seem to care. She just went on grazing giving me enough time to pick up my rifle and lay it across my knees. She was one and done after that. You can see in the picture that luckily she fell up against some deadfall on the back side of the ridge otherwise she would have been even more of a bear to get out. At that moment I was now less than 6 months out of hip surgery and dragging my first elk out one half at a time until I met back up with my dad who had gone back for the game cart. Right then and there I knew that grinding every day even when the odds are against you pays off. The hard work that went into being able to be in that moment made it that much more memorable. Now here I am following two more hip surgeries with the most recent having had my hip socket cut out of my pelvis, rotated, and screwed back together. And guess what? I drew an elk B tag for the same game range again this year after being told to not put in for tags. To heck with them, the plan is to harvest an elk and prove yet again that a few hip surgeries aren’t going to stop me, hip screws or no hip screws.