This is Waterloo High School junior Caroline Arnold’s first year playing on two varsity sports teams – not only proving she is a stand-out athlete, but also that her limb difference is not a setback.
Arnold was born with congenital amputation of her left hand.
“I was born with no left hand, that’s what that fancy medical term means,” Arnold explained. “I actually have a condition called Symbrachydactyly, where it’s basically just you’re born with no left hand.”
Despite this, she plays volleyball and basketball, earning spots on both varsity teams this school year. Her passion for both sports started long before high school, though.
“I really, really loved volleyball from a young age, like when my parents put me in Little Tykes volleyball,” Arnold recalls. “I just always wanted to be on the court. I would say eighth grade is when I really realized that volleyball was something I wanted to do as long as I could.”
When she was 9, Arnold first attended NubAbility Athletics’ annual all-sports camp in Du Quoin. This was the first time she was surrounded by other athletes with upper and lower limb differences.
Arnold said the lessons of her coaches extended far beyond volleyball technique.
“I play volleyball there and I’ve had the really good opportunity to have coaches that have the same limb difference as me,” Arnold said, noting one of her coaches, Nicky Nieves, is a paralympic athlete. “They’ve really helped me with not just volleyball, but also things like tying my shoes and putting my hair in a ponytail and all those things that two-handed people wouldn’t think twice to do, but it just takes (individuals with limb differences) a little bit longer to overcome that.”
Summer 2021 was the first year Arnold was in a leadership position at the camp, helping to mentor kids with limb differences from all over the U.S. and even kids from Mexico and the U.K.
“This year was my first year being what’s called a junior coach, which means that I still get to do some playing volleyball and go through some of the drills, but I also get to help out younger limb-different athletes who have the same limb difference as me,” she said. “Now I get to talk to girls that are younger than me and help them out with volleyball, just like (the older athletes) helped me.”
Arnold said this is very rewarding, as she always looked up to the older athletes at the camp.
As Arnold mentioned, the camp is for all sports. This even includes archery, which Arnold also found great success in.
When Arnold was 11, she was recognized by St. Louis Night of Stars – an organization that provides extraordinary kids with a red carpet-esque experience – for helping make mouth triggers for archers.
“There’s a tab that you can attach to it that you actually bite on with your mouth and then you pull it away from your body, aim and release,” Arnold explained.
This summer, Arnold learned she made the WHS varsity volleyball varsity squad as a right side hitter and later got the call that she would be a post player for the varsity basketball squad as well.
Arnold said one of her proudest moments on the volleyball court came at the tail end of the season during the sectional championship against Taylorville.
“I think my proudest moment was starting the sectional final game against Taylorville,” Arnold said. “I got put on the court, and I wasn’t being put on the court on varsity all year as much as I was that game. I came out and tried to do my best. We lost, but it was still a really competitive game and I actually got to hit a lot, which is what I love to do.”
In fact, Arnold recorded six kills and a block in that match.
Shortly before this game, senior middle blocker Hailey Montgomery was injured at practice. This gave Arnold the opportunity she had long been waiting for, head coach Angie Crawford said. Arnold and Emily Biffar came in to cover Ella Bockhorn’s right side position as Bockhorn took over Montgomery’s spot at middle hitter.
“(Arnold) pushed our starters to let them know, ‘Hey, I want to get an opportunity,’ and when she got that opportunity, she definitely got the job done for us,” Crawford said.
The end of the Bulldogs’ volleyball season didn’t mean Arnold was done with the court – in fact, she was juggling two sports at once for a period of time.
“Volleyball and basketball did actually overlap a little bit, so there was a time when I was having to miss the beginning of basketball season to finish our volleyball season because we were making a pretty good run in postseason,” she said.
Unlike when playing volleyball, Arnold does use a prosthetic on the basketball court.
“For basketball, I wear a prosthetic because it helps me rebound because my arm is just a little bit shorter than my right arm. So, it makes it easier for me to jump up and grab the ball because my arms would be the same length,” she said. “For volleyball, I don’t. I’ve tried different prosthetics for volleyball and I never really found one that helped me more than it just slowed me down.”
So far this season, WHS girls basketball has been crushing high-stakes tournaments, with Arnold saying it is poising the program for one of its best seasons yet.
“So far this season we’re doing really well compared to all of our other past seasons,” Arnold said.
In addition to taking the Columbia Tip-Off Classic, the ‘Dogs also triumphed in the Candy Cane Classic. On Thursday, Arnold and her team defeated Carlyle, 53-26, to win the Red Bud Christmas Tournament.
WHS girls basketball head coach Jake Schneider applauded Arnold for being a model athlete.
“Caroline is a hard worker and a good teammate,” Schneider said, continuing to list more of Arnold’s skills. “She offers a lot of size and rebounding ability on the court … Caroline works very hard in the weight room and has really impressive lifts to show for it. We stress the importance of the weight room to our athletes at Waterloo and she has bought into that.”
Arnold said there is one thing people should keep in mind when watching her play any sport.
“I think the biggest thing to understand is I’m not really different from any other player,” she said. “Don’t treat me differently than any other player just because I have a limb difference. I can still play just the same way.”
Catch Arnold on the court 6 p.m. Thursday as the Bulldogs host Highland.