I knew softball had lost her that day at the indoor soccer park. She was 8, no taller than a fire hydrant, and hidden amid a sea of 11-year-old boys.
At one point, she emerged with the ball and shot up one side of the turf field, weaving her way past older and bigger and stronger defenders, dribbling with the mastery of a player far older, stopping and starting and stopping again, turning the ball this way and that with her magical foot, and finally shooting a laser past a goalkeeper who was as amazed as those watching.
I turned to her father with these words: "Larry, she has found her home."
Is it true that faith consists of believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe? If so, count me in when it comes to the journey Rylee Swartzel now faces.
It is still so clear to her mother, Kelli, those moments from that day in February. Her eldest son running into the house with news of an accident. Driving up the hill to reach Rylee. Seeing her lying face down in the mud, where her head had been pinned under one of the ATV's tires. The cracked visor on her helmet. Her blue lips. Beginning to administer CPR. Getting her to the main road. The 911 call. The ambulance. The 10 to 15 minutes where there was no pulse, no heartbeat, no oxygen to her brain. The Life Flight helicopter. The trip to University Medical Center. The tubes and doctors and tests and diagnosis.
The word "vegetable."
Larry Swartzel was working in Wyoming at the time, and the first call he received was to say his little girl had been revived and was OK.
The second was to say she would likely be dead before he could get to her side.
So he sat in an airport and later on a plane and thought the thoughts any parent would at the time.
"You relive every day with her, every moment," he said. "Everything that made her so special. Everything that made her my Ry-Dog."
She is being called a miracle. Specialists have told the family they can remember perhaps just a few times when anyone without a heartbeat for so long survived, something they attribute mostly to the incredible level of fitness Rylee owned from soccer.
She will be 11 in June, and her world today is about fighting back to the family she left, to the world she brightened with her smile.
Her room at a Las Vegas rehabilitation center pays homage to her love of the game, a member of the Las Vegas Neon who always played up in age division because of her skill, her will, her determination.
She can't talk but communicates in various ways. She winks. She sticks out her tongue. She smiles that smile. She moves her leg when watching soccer or hockey on television and someone scores.
Life can be so incredibly vicious. When that ATV flipped on top of her in Apple Valley, Utah, the part of her brain injured most was the area that controls her motor skills, those same muscles that made her such a gifted player at such a young age.
The community support has been overwhelming, from club soccer teams to softball leagues to those the family hadn't seen in years. The UNLV women's soccer team will honor Rylee at its season opener in the fall and hopes to set an attendance record.
Medical bills continue to mount. The plan is to transport her soon to California or Arizona for more intricate treatment, the kind that has brought others all the way back.
The dream is to hear her talk and watch her walk again, to see one more time the little girl who in a picture sequence on her wall at the rehab center has her chasing an opponent more than a foot-and-a-half taller, passing her, turning the ball and heading the other way.
"Kelli told me when I finally got to the hospital that first night, 'Don't cry, but it's going to be your worst nightmare. We have to be strong for her,' " Larry said. "Sure enough, you walk in the room and see those tubes and gadgets measuring her brain activity ..."
Kelli cries in the shower now. Larry cries while sitting next to his daughter and watching her sleep each night. There has to be a release. There has to be that time when the stress of it all is let out, even for just a few minutes.
There is a scene near the end of the film "We Are Marshall" where Matthew McConaughey's character addresses his football team with these words: "I want to talk about our opponent this afternoon. They're bigger, faster, stronger, more experienced and, on paper, they're just better. And they know it, too.
"But I want to tell you something that they don't know. They don't know your heart. I do. I've seen it."
Rylee has never faced an opponent such as this, never had to dribble past such a menacing foe as the one she now battles in her mind, trying with every ounce to climb out of the dark hole and back into the sort of sunlight she felt on so many Saturday afternoons running up and down grass fields.
It is not yet beyond the power of reason to believe.
Reason doesn't know Rylee Swartzel's heart and spirit.
I've seen it.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on "Gridlock," ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.