EMLENTON, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Avah Burke was in the fourth grade when her life changed forever.
While doing what most nine-year-olds do, innocently swinging on the monkey bars on a playground, Burke fell and landed awkwardly on her right arm, snapping in half one of the bones of her forearm, the ulna, and also badly breaking her radius.
What made matters far worse was the location of the fractures: close to her growth plate near the elbow.
“My first surgery, they tried just setting my elbow and that didn’t work,” Burke said. “So, I had to have another surgery the next day, and they put a wire through my arm, and that didn’t seem to work, either. I ended up with pins.”
What has resulted is a lifelong battle with soreness, range of motion, and other complications that have required even more surgeries to simply keep her arm functional.
But Burke, a junior at A-C Valley, hasn’t let that stop her from being a star in three sports — at two different schools.
“It’s something that I’m always going to have to deal with,” Burke said. “I’ve lost like 60% of my motion since I broke it, and I’ll never gain that motion back. I’ve just adapted to it, I guess. I’ve learned new ways that work out for me.”
She’s adapted well.
On the softball field, Burke is a potent hitter, even though she hasn’t had much of a chance to show that at the high school level because of the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out her freshman year on the diamond in 2020 and another elbow surgery that limited her to just one game this spring.
In that one game, she went 3-for-4. The next day she had to shut it down so doctors could perform another procedure on the elbow.
“I have heterotopic ossification,” Burke said.
She knows far more medical terms than a junior in high school should know.
“Because of my injury, I grow extra bone, extra bone marrow, and they have to go in and grind it down. This last surgery wiped out my sophomore softball season, I was having nerve pain. They just went in and wrapped my nerve up and put it into my muscle — kind of tucked it away.”
With those issues rectified, Burke is back now on the travel softball circuit, playing for Pittsburgh Power. She is as dangerous at the plate as ever — and also behind it as a catcher.
Don’t try to run on Burke — she shows no signs of a serious elbow injury when she is mowing runners down trying to steal.
“It wasn’t going to stop me,” Burke said of her elbow. “I have three older siblings, and it’s always been a goal of mine to keep up with them, especially when they were younger and more active in sports. So, I just kind of stuck through it, and I’ve gotten around this obstacle in my life.”
Burke hopes to play softball in college in the long term. In the short term, she just hopes to play more than one game at A-C Valley.
“I’m working really hard,” Burke said. “Sometimes I push myself too hard, but that’s understandable.
“I’m proud of myself,” she added. “I still think I could do a lot better, and there’s still room for improvement.”
Burke moved to Emlenton from Tionesta before her freshman year. With no soccer program at A-C Valley, Burke instead ran cross country for the Falcons, but it wasn’t the same.
She missed soccer.
Luckily, a co-op was in place between A-C Valley and Karns City, and Burke was able to join the Gremlins as a sophomore.
She said it was like she had always been a part of the team.
“The environment at Karns City is just amazing,” Burke said. “I love it. The girls are so nice, and the coaching is even better.”
Burke turned into a key member of the team at midfield.
“When Avah came on board with us, you would have thought it would have been awkward or weird,” said Karns City girls soccer coach Tracy Dailey. “And, it really wasn’t. She worked hard, and she fit right in with our group of kiddos. From day one, she just meshed with us. We were very lucky to pick up Avah.”
Burke, though, was unable to play for Karns City in the District 9 championship game, a 5-4 loss to Clearfield that ended a run of eight consecutive district crowns for the Gremlins, because of COVID issues at A-C Valley.
The team rallied around her anyway, placing a picture of her at the end of popsicle sticks and carrying them with them during pregame warmups.
“We kind of think of ourselves as a big family,” said Karns City junior forward Emma Dailey, who became good friends with Burke. “She’s a big part of our family, and she wasn’t there. We had to show her we wanted her there and missed her and that she was still part of our family.”
Burke also played basketball for A-C Valley and squared off against Emma Dailey and Karns City during the season.
Emma Dailey said that was a bit strange, but in a good way.
“I joked with her the whole entire game,” she said, laughing. “We kind of forgot we were on opposing teams.”
Burke, who is also very active with 4-H and whose family owns steers and swine, is determined to keep persevering through whatever is thrown at her.
“I still expect big things in my future to come,” Burke said. “I know I will still have things to overcome and conquer. I’ll just deal with them as they come.”