This isn't the first time in her young life that Kelsey Bogaards has served as an inspiration. There's no other way to describe her impact on the 2016 Auburn softball team during its run to a second straight SEC Tournament championship and a repeat trip to the Women's College World Series.
They called that phenomenon "Turtle Power," playing on her childhood nickname. Which has nothing to do with foot speed, she'll have you know. Motivated by the senior's comeback from a fall knee injury and surgery - only to see her tear the other ACL at the end of the regular season to end her playing career - the Tigers rallied around the shortstop from Miami.
All the way back to Oklahoma City.
Four years later, Bogaards finds herself serving others again while facing a different, unprecedented type of adversity. She's on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis, working in the emergency room at a Level 1 trauma hospital in south Florida.
Bogaards shared her experience in a moving interview with Andy Burcham on the Talking Tigers podcast. Her description of her three-day-a-week night-shift routine quickly grabs your attention.
She wakes at 4 p.m. Leaves for the hospital, which she said she's not allowed to name, at 5 p.m. Arrives at 6 p.m., clocks in shortly thereafter and prepares for the 12-hour whirlwind of motion and emotion she's about to experience.
"It's basically like going into a war zone," she said. "You go from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. You don't stop. You don't sit. It's kinda chaotic, but it goes by quick because you're so busy all the time."
That was true for much of her first year as a registered nurse. The coronavirus outbreak has added additional layers of responsibility and anxiety. The nurses huddle each night to learn their assignments in different sections of the ER: the regular section or the isolation section, which contains the coronavirus patients. Gearing up involves a gown, gloves, N95 mask, goggles and a face shield.
"Nurses are mentally tough, but you're never prepared for something like this," Bogaards told Burcham. "In nursing, you sign up to be in the front line. In the emergency department, you sign up to be ready for anything that comes your way, but in a pandemic, there's only so much you can do. It's emotionally draining. It's physically draining. You're wearing these N95 masks for 12 hours. ... You see patients, and it's sad. I've seen patients not survive from this coronavirus, and it's terrifying."
Her concerns don't end on the hour-long drives home to Miami, where she lives with her parents.
"For me, what's more scary is bringing it home to my family," she said. "Like driving home, I'm like, 'OK, I need to strip off all my scrubs. I need to go straight to the shower. I need to Lysol the doorknobs.'
"I have a nephew who's 1 ½ years old. He comes over to my house every day. I have to keep my distance from him and that breaks my heart because at the end of the day, I don't want to expose my family to this. ... That's the very scary truth that can happen."
The student-athlete experience helped prepare Bogaards for this challenge. She played SEC softball for four years at Auburn, earning her undergraduate degree there. She postponed nursing school at Auburn University at Montgomery until after her playing days to give each pursuit her best. She chose working in an emergency room because "emergency department nurses have the same mentality as being an athlete. You have to be mentally strong. You have to be tough. You have to be able to take criticism to make yourself better. It's all about teamwork and handling things under pressure."
It's hard to imagine more pressure than finishing your first year as a registered nurse in the emergency room of a Level 1 trauma center during a global pandemic that's changed so many lives in so many ways. Bogaards had planned a trip back to Auburn in May for a teammate's wedding and a chance to see her old team play LSU.
Obviously, that series and that trip won't happen. Instead Bogaards will continue to suit up in her new uniform and work with her new team toward a common goal. In this case, it's the common good. She'll do it despite the occasional pain in her surgically repaired knees during those 12-hour shifts.
That pain reminds her of how she inspired her Auburn teammates four years ago. Her reaction to the hurt that ended her softball career helps explain how she reached this even more impactful place in her life.
"That was the most amazing feeling," she said. "It helped my teammates. If it took me tearing my ACLs, I would never take it back. It was awesome."
Hear more from Kelsey Bogaards on nursing life, her family, that nickname and why Auburn is still home on the Talking Tigers podcast with Andy Burcham.