In an empty classroom next to the Granada Hills High gym, with the sounds of volleyballs bouncing on the floor, standout setter Lia Berkolds wiped away tears and tried to explain how a freak accident last year changed her life.
“I realized how tough life can be sometimes,” she said, her voice cracking. “How terrible stuff can happen to people who are not suspecting it and did nothing to earn it. You have to deal with it and learn from it and take it into account when you’re doing anything.”
On Aug. 25, 2018, a Saturday, Berkolds traveled to San Luis Obispo to visit a friend. The day before, she had played in her second junior-year volleyball match in a victory over Van Nuys. The previous two years, she helped the Highlanders win City Section championships.
She was in the backyard playing around with another teenager who was hitting limes with a golf club. Berkolds said she was trying not to get hit by a lime when she was struck by the club under her left eye. She suffered an orbital blowout fracture and was transported to a hospital in Fresno. Her cheekbone and jaw were fractured. Her retina was detached. Her eyeball was ruptured. She spent four days in the hospital and underwent the first of four operations.
She took a photo of her face and texted it to friends. She was smiling even though she had a large bruise above her cheek and had lost vision in her left eye.
“For a long time, we didn’t know if everything was going to be OK or not,” coach Tom Harp said.
Berkolds spent the rest of the semester recovering at home. Granada Hills supplied a tutor so she could continue with classes at home. She came to a couple of volleyball matches. Physically, she was healing. She learned how to put in a prosthetic eye. Mentally, though, the challenge was daunting. She was blind in one eye. She didn’t know how classmates would treat her. She didn’t know how volleyball would fit in.
She returned to school last January and returned to the volleyball court in July to learn a new position, setter. She was required to wear goggles to protect her good eye. Once again enjoying a sport she loves helped her move forward.
“It’s definitely helped getting back to doing something that was such a big part of my everyday life,” she said. “It makes me feel normal having a set of girls I can go to every day. It’s nice having them and playing the sport.”
Said Harp: “Every time I talk to her, she seems in good spirits. I’m sure she had some down days. She’s a fantastic athlete and has a wonderful personality and attitude. She’s the kind of girl every coach would want on your team. That’s why was it was devastating for me.”
With little peripheral vision on her left side, Berkolds is careful walking the hallways at Granada Hills. But each day she tries to move forward with her life. She’s planning to attend Michigan State next year and uses her training as an athlete to follow the credo taught and ingrained: Never give up.
“I know I will build a great life,” she said. “Life goes on. We learn and we grow. And I still have my other eye. I can still see.”