Following Your Gut

(Photos Courtesy of Meghan Bradshaw)

From a young age, Meghan (Meg) Bradshaw, a student and former athlete at the University of Virginia, had always loved softball, and, as she got older, she could not imagine going to college and leaving her passion behind. So, she laced up her cleats almost daily from third grade on. She wanted to play in college and was willing to do whatever it would take to achieve this goal. This meant filling her weeks with practices, pitching lessons, training sessions with her father, driving miles upon miles to play tournaments in both the cold and heat for weekends at a time, and pushing her body to its limit as she put her heart and soul into every play. Meg understood that injury comes with this kind of dedication to a sport, but she never thought it would begin to impact her life outside of the dirt-filled diamond she called home.

She began to experience this firsthand her sophomore year of high school. At this time, she had not yet committed to play collegiate softball, but with this goal still in mind, she traveled to her high school’s regional finals game in Halifax County.

Meg, a center fielder, knew her team’s chance to go to states depended on this game. However, it was not until later in the game that she found that the hope could actually depend on her as a potentially hope-shattering, late-game fly ball soured into the outfield above her. She dove for a ball in an effort to keep her team’s dream of going to states alive. She came crushing down harshly on her right knee, an injury that would become apparent in the coming days as her pain quickly intensified. Doctors’ visits, after doctors’ visits ensued. No one could find the problem, but that did not change the fact that she was still in overwhelming pain with each passing day. The only answer anyone had simply resulted in 5 months of physical therapy that ultimately proved ineffective. Her pain persisted.

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Meg committed to UVA in the fall of 2014.

Yet, she continued on. Despite the pain she continued to endure, things seemed to be looking up, as she committed to the University of Virginia by the time fall arrived in her junior year. All of her hard work had paid off and she felt as if nothing could bring her down. Still, she could not ignore the fact that her knee had failed to improve. Every time she stepped on to the field, pain seared through her leg and it was beginning to intensify like never before. After games, she found her knee filled with fluid to the point that even attempting to bend it was nearly impossible. In the cold, the fluid would freeze, further immobilizing her already battered knee.

“There has to be something more serious going on,” she thought after each practice. In March 2015, Meg decided to follow her instincts. She found a new orthopedic at UVA, Dr. Diduch, who soon discovered 3 microtears in her medial meniscus. This meant a new approach: a cortisone shot and further reassessing her situation in a few months. This, luckily, still allowed her to play and seemed to help. But, she found quickly, that this was only a solution for a limited time, yet again.

Meg returned to Dr. Diduch just 2 months later and found that her meniscus had torn even more, now with 4 tears, and surgery was necessary. Her heart broke. Her hope of no time off from the game she loved had suddenly fleeted. She felt as if her life was crashing down in front of her, but knew that taking this time off and receiving the proper treatment was key to being able to play later on.

On August 11 of the same year, she went into surgery. She, yet again, went through physical therapy to improve her knee post-surgery and hoped this would be the end of her struggles. But, this proved to be one of the hardest parts of her journey mentally, as all she could think about at each session was being healthy and back to running like normal. It was painful for her to imagine the idea of never being able to sprint across the outfield and leap for fly balls like she always had. Her doctors told her that it would only take a month for her to be back to her original, athletic and agile self, but one month later, Meg had still not reached this point. Going to physical therapy for this long of a period of time was pulling her down mentally, making the battle to recovery all that much harder as she fought both her body saying no and her mind. She was terrified. At such a critical time in pursuing college athletics, she feared this injury was not going to heal as her doctor had assured her. What if her dream of playing at UVa. was gone? She quickly began researching and applying to different schools, in case her worst fear was to come true.

Amazingly, though, her knee began to make slow improvements. 4 months of physical therapy later, she was back on the field and withdrawing her applications to Georgetown and the University of Texas. She had seemingly passed the road bump of injury and was on to play softball at UVa, but the physical health of her knee proved to be short-lived.

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Meg playing in the outfield at UVA.

At a UVa. practice not long after her recovery, Meg again sprinted across the field, the familiar atmosphere of a softball stadium now bringing the new-found excitement of practicing at a Division 1 college. But, then, her enthusiasm came to a screeching halt. At a dead sprint, she collided with her teammate. The consequence? Injuring the same knee. The swelling and pain returned like clockwork.

Meg immediately thought of all she had gone through and most likely have to repeat. It was then that she made the decision to end her softball career. With the combination of a recurrent injury, academic, and emotional stresses, she no longer wished to pursue the sport at a collegiate level. This alone is a difficult transition for an athlete like herself. She had played this sport since for most of her life. She had already carved out 20 hours every week at the start of her college life to devote to it. Suddenly, a cornerstone of her life was gone. She slowly began a journey of adjustment by focusing even more heavily on her nursing education.

She thought this was the end of her struggles, but this was not the case. Her knee continued to swell, which meant 5 additional months of physical therapy and another surgery in 2018, in attempt to finally heal. She recalls that this second surgery was just as difficult mentally as her first and even caused her to worry more beforehand because she knew what to expect with the long road of rehabilitation to come. Although the surgery was again a success, the damage done to her knee still threatens to cause problems in her everyday life as she pursues a career in nursing.

She now had to recover to support a new goal: take care of her patients during her nursing clinical.

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Meg, with her father, at the University of Virginia School of Nursing’s 2nd Year White Coat Ceremony.

The pain of recovery therefore caused a new struggle, both physically and emotionally challenging in a very different way. Still, she pushed through the rehab and has made all efforts to regain strength.

Meg acknowledges that, even after hanging up her cleats, her athletic injury continues to mentally and physically affect her today. Nonetheless, she overcame multiple repeated injuries and pain that could cause anyone to end their career early in high school and, through that, she sees strength within herself. She says she has been able to remain positive throughout this continued process because of her pursuit of accomplishing an even greater goal of becoming a nurse.  Meg has found new successes in nursing, such as receiving an award from the nursing honor society, Sigma Theta Tau. She will also soon be traveling to Honduras as a part of a community health clinical. She credits these accomplishments to all that she learned through softball about knowing how to move forward towards a goal, despite any struggles she may face. Meg is now actively striving to be the best nurse she can dream of being, but she has already lived one dream, despite her injury: she played college softball and she says she “will hold on to [that] forever.”

 

 

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