Fear had very rarely been a term I would have ever used when it came to playing sports. I loved them, had a passion for them; they became a safe haven for me as I got older. Between softball and basketball, I felt fearless while playing – like nothing could touch me. It created a sense of exhilaration that only those who played would truly understand. Hitting a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down or making the crazy, incredible play would have me feeling on top of the world. When I got to play college softball, that feeling was only exaggerated. The feeling of having a crowd of over 1,000 people cheering for you is incredible. Fear would have been the last word in my repertoire in this moment.
Fast-forward to my senior year. I was recovering from my second shoulder surgery with a small likelihood of ever being the same player I was before them.
Fearful was the only word I could think of to describe how I felt.
For as long as I can remember, I had always been gifted with an exceptional arm. I started as a baseball pitcher and then slowly transferred into the sport of softball, around age 13, where I became a shortstop and catcher. If you ask any coach of mine, they would agree with the statement that I was not gifted with the power of speed (even if I felt like I was). Because of this, I was not always thought to have potential as a shortstop until a coach saw my arm strength. I was able to adapt to my lack of speed with deeper angles because I had the arm strength to make the play deep in the whole. When I got to college, throwing off my back foot or on the run became my staple play as the speed of the game was ridiculous. My arm strength became my safety mechanism.
The First Hurdle
After my shoulder labral repair surgery, I remember looking up the statistics on throwing velocity post surgery (probably not the smartest decision for anyone in this situation). Some of the studies said the athlete would only get 80% of their velocity back. 80 PERCENT! I felt defeated before I even started the rehabilitation process. While in the process of my throwing program, I had a moment of clarity with my assistant coach, Jessica Moore. I had begun the section of throwing a softball from 90 feet and I thought it was going to be the hardest thing in the world – mind you, in order to complete the program I had to throw from 150 feet. It had been so long that I was struggling to understand how far 90 feet was. She set me up like I was throwing down on a steal to second base and I went after the first throw – it flew over her head. Now, for anyone who knows Coach Jess, she is quite sarcastic. I will never forget the stare she gave me with the, “and you were freaking out for what, Boyle?” look. I thought that was it; I thought I had gotten over my major mental hurdle coming back from an injury. Then came February 9th….
Game Day. First game back. Emotions are running high with excitement as the season is about to kick off. This team gets to start to define what they are about today. We go through warm-ups and batting practice then go back to the locker room to get ready. Down to the field, we walk and the nerves start to set in. What if my arm gives out again? What if the anchors don’t hold? It’s my senior year. I can’t go through this again.
Luckily, I run into Dr. Lee, our Behavioral Health Coordinator at USF. I have been working with him throughout the entire injury recovery process and at that moment, I knew I was beginning to freak out with fear and needed help to calm down.
“Cassidy, take it pitch by pitch and just breathe. You got this.”
First inning. No ground balls – awesome, we can do this. Second inning – pop up, great we are okay.
Third inning. Ground ball bouncing over the pitcher’s head. Bare-hand, throw on the run. No pop. No pain. The umpire calls out and a smile erupts across my face, my coaches faces, my teammate’s faces. I was back, in Cassidy Boyle fashion. But the true test was still to come. Two more innings pass. Ground ball in the 5-6 hole. Backhand, throw off the back foot. It was the moment we all were worried about; we didn’t know what was about to happen. An absolute cannon across the diamond and the girl is out by a step. WITH NO PAIN. Last out of the inning.
There are moments in our career that we never forget. This was one of mine. It was the realization that not only my effort but the help and aid of those around me all paid off. I trotted off the field and was swarmed in a hug by my head coach, Ken Eriksen. My teammates were all around me in excitement because we had just gotten out of a huge inning. Amidst this, I looked into the crowd to find my dad. Grinning ear to ear, with his quivering lip of love and relief, I gave him the thumbs up sign that he always looked for when watching the games the past 4 years. I walk into the dugout, finishing up the high fives, and put my glove down and just took in the moment. I turned around to find my best friend just standing there. We didn’t say anything, just a quick hug with enough understanding that no words were necessary. Fear was no longer in my mind but instead family. These people went through my journey with me. They were there for the good days and the bad ones. They pushed me to get back on the field and made me want to be out there with them again.
You see, I was lucky. I was lucky to be at a University that understands the importance of Student-Athlete Mental Health enough to have a Behavioral Health Coordinator in the department. Lucky enough to have a coaching staff that allowed him, the team doctor, and Sports Medicine Staff in our dugout for moments like February 9th. We are all under the presumption that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical. That 90% is way too important not to take care of. Dr. Lee is one of the most influential individuals in our Athletic Department. Without him, this moment may not have occurred. Returning from an injury is almost all mental. The mental battle needs to start during the physical recovery, but it doesn’t stop when we get cleared physically. In fact, that is when that battle revs its engine. It is one thing to practice post injury where you always have in the back of your head that you aren’t ready to go all out yet; it is another thing to play in a game where you are going all out to the point where there is no second thought of “what if.” I am so grateful to have had an individual during my process dedicate a portion of their time specifically to this aspect of injury recovery.