OKLAHOMA CITY — Kelsey Bogaards sat on the first row behind the Auburn dugout Thursday afternoon and admitted she’d already had a long day.
“I’m on maybe three hours sleep,” Bogaards said.
A 6 a.m. rehabilitation session, a medical-surgical nursing exam and a flight to Oklahoma City all preceded her presence in the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium stands, but you’d never know it from her demeanor.
Bogaards leaned forward in her chair, intensely invested in each of the 241 pitches thrown throughout Auburn’s 10-3 win over UCLA on the first day of the Women’s College World Series.
She had desperately hoped to be on the field and in the dugout with her teammates for Auburn’s second straight World Series appearance, but in a cruel twist of fate, her body had other plans.
Bogaards, a senior, started 118 games over her first three seasons on campus, but tore the ACL in her right knee last fall. She spent the next seven months going through grueling rehab with the hope of returning for at least a few games before her softball career ended.
She finally returned to the starting lineup at shortstop for Auburn’s regular-season finale on Mother’s Day, May 8, at home against Texas A&M. In the top of the sixth inning, Bogaards fielded a ground ball and tossed it to second baseman Emily Carosone before falling to the dirt.
She felt a familiar pop, but this time, it was her other knee.
After being carried off the field, Bogaards told trainers that she felt better and attempted to run near the dugout, but collapsed after about three steps. That’s when she knew her playing days were over.
“When I went down with my right one, I definitely had some ‘Why?’ thoughts,” she said. “I thought about it a hundred times.
“But when that happened with my left one, it was a little bit more of an assurance that I was done playing and it was time to move on.”
Bogaards switched her major from nursing to kinesiology early in her college career because the clinicals required for a nursing degree conflict with the softball team’s travel schedule. So she took the latest setback as a sign that it was time to turn her attention back to nursing.
She enrolled in nursing school for the summer semester, and Monday and Tuesday clinical rotations meant she couldn’t travel with her teammates earlier in the week.
But that doesn’t mean Bogaards wasn’t represented in Oklahoma City.
Bogaards has been widely known by her nickname — “Turtle” — since she was a little girl growing up in Miami, Fla.
One day when she was a toddler, she was out on a fishing trip with her family and a turtle swam up next to the boat. The turtle continued to swim alongside the boat and made eye contact with Kelsey.
Kelsey’s father, Tom, also noticed that the turtle was swimming just like Kelsey, who was taking swimming lessons at the time.
“I told her, ‘Kelsey, you swim just like a turtle,’” Tom Bogaards recalled Wednesday.
“She said, ‘Daddy, I turtle. I turtle.’”
The nickname was born, and it stuck. Her teammates all call her “Turtle,” and after her injury, the Auburn players started keeping a stuffed turtle toy in the dugout with them during games.
A recent NCAA rule prohibiting props in softball dugouts means they can’t have the stuffed turtle with them during the games in Oklahoma City, but several Auburn fans have turtles in the stands.
The Tiger players are also wearing green ribbons in their hair for Bogaards, and in every team picture that she missed earlier this week, the stuffed turtle took her place.
“She’s been our inspiration,” said senior first baseman Jade Rhodes. “When she came back out on that field, it felt like home again because we were all together, and then for something like that to happen to her again was horrible.
“But after that moment, we knew that it our destiny for us to be here. We’re playing for her the whole time.”