“Sometimes the only thing fair in life is a ball hit between first and third.”
Everyone knows that life isn’t fair, but how do we overcome this unfairness? How do we fully accept that life is not fair, but press on anyway? I might not have known the answers to those questions before college but I found out the hard way. When my parents drove me through the streets of Baltimore, Maryland during my senior year of high school, I could not have imagined what this city would have in store for me. I knew when I was recruited that Morgan State was not a big-time softball school, but that did not bother me; I just wanted to play ball. Softball was all that I thought I knew.
It was October of 2016, in the middle of my sophomore year that was supposed to be the continuation of a stellar career. During my freshman year I started every game, broke an offensive record, and made my conference’s Postseason Second Team. Instead, my second year started with a visit to the emergency room. Dehydration, fatigue, kidney infection, and extreme nausea. These symptoms seemed random but I was worried, so I got fluids, returned to campus, and continued on with my semester.
Four emergency room visits later. Brain tumor.
“I’m sorry, what?”
A pituitary adenoma? I had no idea what that even meant. After endless appointments it was determined that the growth would become harmless with hormonal and fluid rehabilitation. The tumor was benign, but its residual effects were grueling. Diabetes insipidus, polycystic ovarian syndrome, chronic migraines, chronic dehydration, chronic pyelonephritis, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease – the diagnosable aftermath of a hormone secreting brain tumor. I was constantly coming to practice late, leaving early, and missing it all together to keep up with my appointments. I had to take twice as many water breaks as the rest of the team, making me feel weak and inadequate. It was impossible to read for extended periods of time without getting a migraine, making homework impossible. My GPA dropped from a 3.7 to a 2.9 and batting average dropped from a .340 to a .290. I became angry with everyone about everything, and I withdrew from my team, who had become my second family.
During one of my signature stolen bases one week before the conference tournament, I collided into the shortstop who was covering third base. Legs were tangled as I slid towards the ground and she raced to stop me. I tried to stand but immediately loss feeling, strength, and stability in my right leg. After the game, I had it checked out.
Fractured fibula. Grade 2 ACL sprain. Grade 2 MCL sprain.
After months of medication and appointments to deal with my tumor, the remainder of my season, and possibly my career, was gone. I thought my college life was over. As I hobbled around campus with my bionic leg brace and crutches, I became increasingly frustrated. On one of these particularly irritating days, my coach came by with a recruit. I put on a happy face and welcomed her to campus. As I began to introduce myself, she started to recite my statistics, home town, and desire to wear my jersey number- I had never seen a recruit so eager and excited to meet me. I had no idea that my abilities were making a difference in my community. What I was doing on the diamond was inspiring young girls in Baltimore to pick up a glove. I learned two things that day; I needed to give back to the neighborhood, and I needed to get myself back on the field.
I learned more about my community and how I could make a difference within it. The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter was around the corner from campus and in need of donations. Not only did I travel there to see the dogs, play with a few, and donate money, but I adopted an American Pit Bull Terrier named Oliver! He has been quite a hit with my team, housing complex, and family. I filled my car trunk with candy with my teammates in order for inner city children to trick-or-treat safely. I became an advocate for Tiny Superheroes, an organization that provides life-saving medicine for babies with rare and debilitating diseases.
With my internship, I was given the opportunity to help renovate a building that houses Living Classrooms, which teach children in the foster care system and who have been victims of domestic abuse hands-on, real world concepts. They learn gardening, cooking, and financial intelligence in addition to math, science, and history. My offseason efforts were rewarded with a full recovery and two more record-breaking seasons. I continued my community service, academic vigor, and athletic excellence all the while appreciating every moment and opportunity I was given. By the conclusion of my senior year, I would hold ten offensive records at Morgan State University and three postseason honors.
After experiencing medical adversity during my sophomore year, I realized that the platform available as a collegiate student athlete absolutely must be used to better the community around you. No matter whether you donate time, money, or effort to the programs around you, the difference you make has a ripple effect. In 2016 I was Morgan State’s biggest flop. In 2019, I was the MEAC Player of the Year, HBCU Division 1 Player of the Year, and the MEAC Woman of the Year. So yes, life is definitely not fair.
But trust me when I say that you can even the odds.
Damali Young is a 2019 graduate of Morgan State University, where she majored in Construction Management and won the MEAC’s 2019 Woman of the Year award. This fall, she’ll be serving as an assistant coach while pursuing her masters at Morgan State, where she’ll help coach her sister and former teammates.