Karla Wilburn's Softball Journal
Feb. 10, 2006
I never thought my collegiate softball experience would start the way that it did. I was so excited when we left last year for our first weekend of games in North Carolina. Little did I know that’s where my season would end. I made it through four innings of pitching until the pain in my right elbow was so bad that I had to stop. At that moment I knew that something was definitely wrong. Pitching became nearly impossible to do, but I managed to make it through the weekend hitting and playing first base. It wasn’t until we got back to UVA that I found out my injury was much worse than I had imagined.
I can remember when I got the news as if it were yesterday. I was sitting in the waiting room dreading to get my MRI results back when the doctor walked out of his office with a solemn expression on his face. My body was overwhelmed with a rush of heat that flowed from my head to my toes and as I saw his lips move. All I heard come out of his mouth was “surgery” and “12 month rehab.” At that moment I felt like my heart had frozen over and before I knew it tears were uncontrollably flowing down my face. This may seem over dramatic to some, but I’ve been playing softball for the majority of my life and it’s hard to imagine such a big part of your life going away for an entire year. Softball has shaped everything; it has given me structure, discipline, and has taught me the art of time management. What was I going to do without it?
I flew to Birmingham, Alabama, to have the surgery done by a specialist. Dr. Andrews has performed Tommy John surgery numerous times, and for those that don’t know what this surgery entails, it is the reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament. In other words, a tendon is taken from your forearm and placed in your elbow to reinforce the main ligament. Gross, I know. But Dr. Andrews was the best man for the job and I was extremely happy to have the surgery performed by him; especially since he has performed surgery on many famous major league baseball pitchers. Wow, I felt like a celebrity, minus the whole undergoing surgery thing. Anyway, December 21st, surgery day marked the beginning a very long rehabilitation.
I was very lucky to have had my surgery over winter break because my family was there to help me through the worst. You never actually realize how much you use your dominant hand in everything: eating, writing, driving, and doing your hair/makeup just to name a few, until you can’t us it. But once through that initial awkward phase of not knowing how to function properly – that’s when the hard work came along. I practically lived in the athletic training room here at UVA working with our trainer Brian Friscia – it was like a second home. Every day doing little exercises, building strength, to do things that people take for granted. It was frustrating of course, but I had to find the will to try a little harder every day so that I could make a proper recovery. The rehab was one thing, but the part that hit me the hardest, the part that made me the most emotional, was watching my teammates practice and play games. I’m not saying that I wished I could’ve switch places with one of my teammates, because I would wish this injury upon no one, but I was jealous. It’s very hard to sit there and watch someone do what you can’t. Especially when it’s something that has consumed your time and thought almost every day for years upon years. Every time I watched one of my teammates pitch, I thought, will I ever be able to do that again? And every time someone hit the ball; I was like, how long until I can do that again? These questions repeated themselves in my head over and over. To be completely honest, there were times that I didn’t know if I could go on. For anyone who has ever had an injury, you know that there are times in the rehab process which you hit a wall, kind of similar to writer’s block. You just don’t seem to be progressing anymore, and this is the time that your dedication to your recovery is really tested. Luckily for me, I was surrounded by people who cared and loved me. My family and friends were right there for me every step of the way, and I don’t know if I could have done it without them. It’s the hard times in one’s life that you really see the power of love and friendship.
So it’s February now, which means our first game is just around the corner and it’s the moment I have been waiting for. I’m officially cleared to play again and my practice time has been devoted to sharpening my skills for game time. I think being out for a year put more strain on my mind than my body. It’s been harder for me to get my confidence back than the actual ability to play. And what can you really expect when you’ve been on the sideline for an entire season plus. I am grateful to have come back into the arms of a great new coaching staff. The coaches’ fresh outlook and coaching techniques are just what our team needed to light the spark and prove to the world our abilities.
All I can say is that I’m extremely excited to step on the field again and feel the intensity and competitive spirit. I’m ready to fully experience the life of a Division I college athlete!