During her sophomore year at Indian River State College, pitcher Sarah Read was at the top of her game.
Already a junior college All-American, her league's Pitcher of the Year, and a Division I signee with Stetson University, Read was leading the Pioneers to another strong season in the Southern Conference.
However, late in one particular game at Miami-Dade College in the spring of 2012, everything changed.
"I threw a pitch and felt a little awkward but didn't really think anything of it," Read said. "On my very next windup, when my arm was in the air, I felt a crack in my collarbone area. When I went down to release the ball, I felt a pull in my arm. The girl hit the ball to the shortstop, and we made the play, but I looked down at my arm and it was just kind of hanging there."
Read noticed a divot in her upper arm and an odd-shaped lump in her biceps area. While she was not in a great deal of pain, she knew she had to come out of the game.
Read's parents were in attendance, and they drove her two hours to an emergency room in Fort Pierce, Fla., where Indian River State is located. Her X-Rays showed no damage to her bones, but an MRI was inconclusive as to the nature of the injury.
"(The doctors) didn't see anything on my shoulder, so they didn't really know what to do," Read said.
Read was asked to take another MRI, and when nothing appeared again in the image, it was apparent that her biceps tendon had torn completely off of her shoulder.
"The first doctor I went to never really heard about this injury, especially with softball players, so he didn't want to do surgery," Read said. "He thought physical therapy would have been fine."
Read's parents were not convinced that physical therapy alone was the best option, so while Read's father was getting a check-up with his physician, he explained what happened to Sarah and asked if the doctor could take a look at his daughter. That doctor just happened to be Koco Eaton, one of the team physicians for the Tampa Rays, a student of the famed Dr. James Andrews, and an expert in treating sports injuries.
Dr. Eaton agreed to see Read.
"He had just got done doing a study with this exact type of injury," Read said about Dr. Eaton. "He saw my MRI and said that the only way I could pitch again was to have surgery."
Four days later she had the surgery to reattach her biceps tendon, and a lengthy rehabilitation process followed. Read then benefited from yet another expert, Larry Mayol and his Star Care rehabilitation center. Throughout the summer Read worked on her strength three days a week, at first just lifting her arm with no weight to gradually adding a little weight at a time.
"Just focusing on the goal of being successful at the next level really kept me going," Read said.
While Read was able to throw a little overhand near the end of summer, her first major milestone came in October when she threw underhand for the first time since the injury.
"I was pretty nervous throwing those first few pitches, but I was also really excited to be able to do something again," Read said.
She was also thrilled when she was cleared to hit and able to participate in the Hatters final fall games in 2012.
Over winter break, Read continued to ramp up her rehab, eyeing a return for the spring season. She pitched 3-4 days a week, gradually increasing her pitch count and exertion level. She said by December she was close to 100 percent from an effort standpoint, but then she had to start relearning how to pitch.
"Because it was a good 7-8 months of not pitching, I had to reteach my arm how to throw the pitches and how to spin the ball," Read said.
As the season approached, Read's excitement level continued to build.
"I was really excited to know that I was able to actually throw from the mound, and to show the coaches and team what I could do," Read said. "I just had this feeling like OK, I am at this next level and I really want to show them how I was able to pitch before I got hurt."
Despite all her determination and passion to get back in the circle to pitch, Read's arm was just not ready to compete. She struggled to get batters out in her game opportunities, and even in practice, the results were not what she was accustomed to.
"Throughout the spring, it was pretty frustrating, because I realized I wouldn't be the same," Read said. "There were some days I didn't know if this is what I still wanted to do. Even the bullpen, just practicing, the pitches wouldn't do anything close to what I wanted them to do. That was really frustrating."
The frustration continued to build, and Read considered calling it career. However, just as Dr. Eaton and Larry Mayol were there for her at the perfect time, so, too, was Stetson's pitching coach Vanessa Bataille.
"To have 'Coach B' spend so much time with me and try to keep me positive when I was frustrated meant so much." Read said. "She spent a lot of time with me, and she just talked me through things.”
Read's parents also inspired her to keep working.
"They supported me and were there for me, like parents are," Read said. "My dad has been my coach my whole life. He said, 'You want to show people you can do this, so go back out there.'"
With a new sense of motivation, Read worked hard over the summer, with one primary area of focus:
"Throwing, throwing, and more throwing," Read said. "I worked with a pitching coach two to three times a week, and then I threw more on my own."
Pitch after pitch, workout after workout, Read was gradually seeing some improvement. She said she really noticed more movement on her pitches during fall practices and scrimmages back at Stetson.
"I think my teammates noticed a difference, too," Read said. "Having them say simple things like, 'Wow, you are looking real good today,' or, 'your pitches are really moving today,' that really encouraged me."
Right from opening day, Read has been instrumental in the Hatters' success this year. She tossed a one-hit shutout on Feb. 7 against Rhode Island and has been a mainstay in the starting rotation ever since. She enters this weekend's series with Lipscomb with a 10-2 record and a 2.70 ERA, with 44 strikeouts in 77.2 innings of work.
"It feels awesome," Read said. "Even though we had success last year, I feel like I didn't do anything to contribute. I feel like the main way I can contribute to this team is through pitching, so I try to focus on that every day."
Bataille is also pleased to see the success Read is having this season.
"I am so proud of Sarah's efforts to push through the adversity, pain and fear," Bataille said. "None of us were sure how long it would take for her to work her way back into previous form, and I appreciate her allowing me to work alongside her. I only wish we had another year, but I'm excited about where we are going this year."
The Hatters (29-8, 13-4 A-Sun) will host the Bisons (34-9, 14-6) in a key three-game Atlantic Sun Conference series this weekend at Patricia Wilson Field. The series winner will have an inside track to the no. 2 seed for the conference tournament which carries a first-round bye.
Read says she excited about the Hatters' prospects down the stretch and into the postseason.
"I have so much confidence in this team," Read said. "Even if we are down by a run or two, I feel like I never really worry, even if I am the one on the mound. I always feel like we are going to get the job done somehow."
Tickets for this weekend's games start at just $5 and can be purchased online or at the Patricia Wilson Field box office. Stetson students, faculty, and staff are free with a valid ID.
Subscription based live video will be available on HatterVision. Live stats, the Stetson softball twitter feed, and the Hat-Alerts text messaging system will provide in-game updates as well.