Haley O’Brien had become a familiar face on the pitching mound for the Radford High School softball team.
Last year, she expected her senior and final year with the Bobcats to be very productive. Instead, a month into the season, she started to experience severe ankle pain.
Doctors told her she needed surgery on her right ankle, and it turned into a season-ending injury, that sadly, she learned would also be career-ending.
The Monday after Radford High School graduation, doctors did a shortening of the Right Ankle Anterior Talofibular Ligament (ATFL). O’Brien did physical therapy for the following three months and saw little to no improvement.
“They helped me gain my leg and calf muscle back, but my ankle saw little improvement,” she said.
Her ankles are both incredibly weak and still very unstable.
“Most of the time this surgery helps, but not always. Unfortunately, I was the small percent that it helped just a little. I won’t be able to run and cut left or right. I am able to do a limited amount such as jog in a straight line, but never a dead sprint around the bases.”
While O’Brien might never return to the familiar pitching circle in a fast pitch softball game, she has found a way to provide some advice to other Bobcat pitchers. She is now helping the jayvee team, calling pitches from a coach’s bucket at the edge of the dugout.
“The opportunity was presented to me by Coach Marissa Puckett and Coach Keith Reed early this year and I could not turn it down. I love this program and this game. I knew I always wanted to coach when my days as a player had ended, but I never knew it would be this soon. The game is still so fresh in my mind, it was such an easy transition,” she said.
The former Bobcat calls it a dream to give back in this way to the program that she loves.
“I have such a heart for these girls. They are the best part of my day. It’s just such a blessing to be apart and welcomed still on the field,” she said.
Unfortunately, she has hung up her jersey and moved on from her dream, but she remains optimistic about everything else in the new chapter of her life.
“The Lord has blessed me beyond belief to work with amazing girls and be able to wear a collared (Bobcat) shirt on game day.”
According to O’Brien, the best advice she can give to the younger Bobcats is that they’ll never regret working hard and embracing every moment they have on the dirt.
“You never know when your last day in that jersey will be. Because before you know it, you’ll just have memories,” she said.
If there is something she learned during rehab and advice she could give to others going through a similar injury, she said take care of yourself and listen to your own body.
“You are the only person who knows your body. Even though others may not be able to see the pain on the outside, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You need your feet for the rest of your life. A sport will end, but in 10 years you will want to walk,” O’Brien said.
She is majoring in mathematics with a secondary education licensure at Radford University. Her new goal in softball is not only to coach girls, but truly have an impact on player’s lives.
“I understand that this is a game, and one day it will be over. But there are so many other lessons to learn on the field that will affect the rest of their lives. I’d love to have a program of my own in the future, but right now I’m still learning and I have awesome role models around me to help me learn.”
Her long-term goals off the field have not changed. She wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps in the educational field.
She was recently placed as a Wyld Life leader at Dalton Intermediate, and she can’t wait to share her faith with the kids.
O’Brien will be will be getting her undergraduate from Radford University in May of 2020 and hoping for a Masters in iSTEM from Virginia Tech shortly after. She would love to be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teacher in the New River Valley.
Who knows, she might also continue to call pitches from the sideline bucket and bring her softball knowledge to other young women wearing black and gold.