Standing underneath the fangs of a massive inflatable Bobcat, Carley Remmers had a moment of pure surreality.
For 15 months, she did not play in a volleyball match.
But now it was time.
Remmers was nervous and emotional, but that did not matter when her feet hit the court.
At last, she was healthy.
During her entire freshman year, she did not see any action on the court. She was not just redshirted, she was not even medically cleared to play. She could not even dream of playing that season, all Remmers could do was hope that she would be able to play someday.
On the first day of the 2016 season, Aug. 26 at The Convo, that someday came.
Remmers shuffled her feet in front of the inflatable Rufus, facing the backs of her teammates that she has not competed with just yet.
Now ready for her first match, she waited for her name to be announced.
A native of Filley, Nebraska, a town with a population of just more than 100 people, Remmers was a superstar at Freeman High School.
The sister of two former volleyball players, she became a prolific player in her own right with more than 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs by her senior season.
However, she dealt with various injuries throughout her career.
“(She had) foot pain that started in track and continued all summer (leading into her junior year),” Dani White, the head coach at Freeman High School, said in an email. “Which led to enormous bigger-than-quarters blisters on her feet, and then an appendectomy in October.”
But during a game in April of 2014, she had an injury that changed her season — and career.
Remmers went up for a block at the net, as she had done thousands of times during her career. But this time, it was different.
"I went up for a block and my whole back completely tightened," Remmers said. "They diagnosed it as a bulging disc. They said since I was so young, they were going to give it time before they did surgery."
A bulging disc occurs when the outer layer of the disc slips into the spinal canal, according to Mayo Clinic's website. The disc becomes larger than the space it normally occupies and pushes against nerves in the spine, causing debilitating pain down the back and legs.
Doctors said there was no reason to rush any type of operation — waiting was the best option.
For months she waited, but was still in pain. If she was going to get better, surgery was the only option.
Shortly before her first semester and freshman season at Ohio, Remmers received a L4-L5 discectomy on her bulging disc.
A discectomy, according to Mayo Clinic's website, is a surgical procedure that is done to remove the damaged portion of the disc and decompress the injured nerves in the spine.
She was going to get better, but Remmers would now have to sit out her entire freshman year.
As a good portion of freshmen do in college volleyball, Remmers was redshirted.
She's still recognized as a freshman by NCAA standards, but academically is a sophomore. She's studying applied nutrition.
But after recovering from back surgery, her goal was not to become the go-to player she used to be in high school — she just wanted to play volleyball.
Remmers had surgery, but sometimes bulging discs and nerve pain can return. Up to 10 percent of those who had a discectomy see a recurring bulging disc in the same place that had been operated on, according to Spine-Health’s website.
Remmers knew this, of course. However, she just did not want to think about it.
“That was always in the back of my mind,” she said. “(That) I wouldn’t be able to return to my highest level of playing.”
On the sideline, however, she had to change her role so she found a new way to contribute.
“I know I couldn’t do my role on the court,” she said. “But I knew I could do my role off the court from the bench, being as loud as I could and helping my teammates see what’s going on on the other side of the court. I had to step into the vocal role on the sideline.”
On the sideline, she was the motivator, just another one of the loud yells coming from the sidelines.
“I know it was a big adjustment for her to be injured and definitely a learning experience,” White said in an email. “Learning to support her teammates during her injury helped her grow as a player.”
And while healing, Remmers was looking to others for motivation.
“It’s OK, you’re going to be OK,” she said her trainers repeatedly told her.
Back in action
It was one sentence that officially ushered in Remmers’ debut with Ohio. She hoped to hear it a lot sooner, but even 15 months later, it sounded just as sweet to her ears.
“From Filley, Nebraska, redshirt freshman, outside hitter, Carley Remmers!”
The voice boomed throughout The Convo as Remmers ran to join her teammates.
She stayed relatively calm until she put her hand on her heart, looked up at the American flag and heard the national anthem.
“I kind of had a little moment during the national anthem,” she told her teammates.
Starting her collegiate debut, Remmers was thrown another challenge. Originally recruited as an outside hitter, she was placed as the starting middle blocker due to the absence of Katie Nelson.
Coach Deane Webb had hoped that Remmers would have more time to develop, but he still put her in the lineup.
As a middle blocker, she struggled in her first three sets. She was not closing blocks and her technique was off. She seemed tired, Webb said.
But, in the fourth set, the third-year head coach saw exactly why he had recruited her.
“She just started making plays and blocking,” Webb said. “I got to see again some of the things when they were recruiting her. She’s a gamer, just a kid who plays hard. She has a good IQ, knows the little things that will help you win.”
Remmers left the court not thinking about her performance, but rather the thrill of competing in her first game.
She had not played her best, but she played. Her dream, which had been interrupted for what seemed like an eternity, was beginning to come true.
“Being able to show everybody else that I can play and that I deserve to be on this team, it’s a really good feeling,” she said.
Back to the future
Back at practice, Remmers is just another one of the girls.
She is working her way back to playing shape and learning to become a quality middle blocker for the Bobcats.
As one of the team’s seven players with freshman status, she is ready to help the young Ohio team this year compete to defend its Mid-American Conference title.
But, only a freshman, she has assumed a leadership position of sorts.
Remmers said she used to not like to talk about her back injury. It was a sensitive subject for her. Talking about being held back from her dream was just too much for her to bear.
But now, she is ready to talk. She wants to help players who might be stuck in her same position.
She may be talking to players who are just redshirting and are not injured, but she wants to motivate them just like the team motivated her last year.
“I told my coach that it’s good to talk about the injury,” Remmers said. “Especially to younger players who might end up sitting out with an injury. They’re kind of down in the dumps. I go up to them and say ‘You know what, if you need to talk to me, just come talk to me. I can try and help you through it.' ”
She’s going to do plenty of talking this year. But more importantly, she will do plenty of playing.
And nothing can stop her now.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Remmers' hometown of Filley, Nebraska.The article has been updated to show the most accurate information.