Burchfield overcomes accident to excel in tennis

Emily Burchfield battled back from an accident to earn the district tennis title. - Jim Waller / Whidbey News-Times
Emily Burchfield battled back from an accident to earn the district tennis title.
— image credit: Jim Waller / Whidbey News-Times

May 17 Coupeville High School senior Emily Burchfield was battling on the tri-district tennis court wondering if she could earn a spot in the state tournament. Nine months earlier she was strapped to a stretcher wondering if she would walk again.

Remarkable comeback by a remarkable kid.

Aug. 21 Burchfield was in Portland to participate in a triathlon, and, as she riding in a bike path from her father’s home in Portland to the race, she was cut down by a car traveling twice the speed limit.

She bounced off the front of the car, flew into the  windshield with enough force to shatter it, then tumbled over the top of the car and onto the pavement. The impact split her helmet.

Burchfield had a concussion but didn’t lose consciousness. She also broke her spine. The doctors were so concerned about the condition of her back, they initially missed that she had a broken sternum.

To compound matters, Burchfield reinjured an ankle that was, and still is, held together by several screws that was initially injured while playing soccer her junior year.

The driver of the car did not have insurance or a license -- it was revoked because of earlier reckless driving convictions.

Three days later she had surgery; later that day she walked.

Her concussion made her “super sensitive” to light and noise, Burchfield said. “I couldn’t even go to family dinner because of the stimulation.

“It hurt to walk the first week, and they told me I wouldn’t be able to run for a year.”

They were wrong. “After a month, I went on my first run,” she said.

Shortly after that she was practicing with the Coupeville soccer team, although she wasn’t cleared to play in matches.

“It was really depressing not playing soccer my senior year, especially after missing my junior year with my ankle injury.”

Burchfield enjoys physical training and, before the accident, had planned to train for a marathon after completing the triathlon. After being injured she had to be content with her interests in art and music. Those activities helped pass the time while she was recovering, but she missed physical activity.

Her passion for conditioning helped spur her unlikely and quick recovery.  The doctors told her that the injuries from the bike accident would have been more severe had she not been in such good physical condition, a result of her triathlon training.

“Triathlons are so much fun,” Burchfield said. She competed in her first when she was 16, the youngest person in the field, and placed second in the 18-and-under class.

She said, “They mark your age on your leg, and it is the best feeling ever passing older competitors.”

Burchfield enjoys working out and has been running since she “was little.” She used to belong to a swim team.

Conditioning, art and music are only some of her interests.

Coupeville High School tennis coach Ken Stange said, “To call Emily well rounded is an understatement.”

She enjoys travel; it started when she was very young when her mother, Janet Burchfield, took her on a backpacking trip through Europe. She has since been to Paris three times with her mother.

“My father (Ben Jacklet) married a Greek women and I have been to Greece a lot.”

She spent one summer in Trinidad helping her grandmother, a former college biology professor, with the Earth Watch program. There they studied and worked with giant turtles.

She will attend the University of California, San Diego next fall. She picked the school because she was intrigued by its Eleanor Roosevelt College, which caters to Burchfield’s interests in community service, politics, culture and international studies.

This spring Burchfield pushed through the pain to get back on the tennis court where she won the district singles championship.

Stange said after the title match, “It was quite an accomplishment for Emily.”

He was talking about more than Burchfield’s tennis.

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