Softball: Elaine Heflin’s potential outduels pain
Updated: April 18, 2012 8:28PM
During a game in April, 2010 against Glenbard West, Downers Grove North pitcher Elaine Heflin, then a freshman, was having a typical performance. But her coach, Mark Magro, knew something wasn’t right.
“She struck out 13 that night but without her usual speed,” Magro recalled. “She looked uncomfortable at times. Twice I went out to see if she was all right and she said she was fine.”
He would find out later, she wasn’t.
“That night at 12:30 a.m. I get a text from her saying ‘just leaving emergency room, they think rib or pulled oblique.’”
Magro held her out for two weeks and she pitched sparingly the rest of the season while then-junior Kendall Ryndak handled the pitching duties.
During that summer while playing in a tournament in California, Heflin was in too much pain to pitch. She was later diagnosed with a fractured vertebra that put her in a back brace for six months.
“There were some warning signs that there was something wrong because my velocity was down,” said Heflin, who is now a junior. “I never had a problem like this. I was confused and thought that maybe it was related to my rib injury from earlier that year.
“The toughest thing about wearing the brace was not being able to do anything,’’ she added. ‘‘I was really antsy at first because I went from exercising every day to doing nothing. It was also hard just sitting at practice and at games watching my team play without me. I just wanted to be a part of the team so it was a little isolating at times.”
Heflin was cleared to pitch in May, 2011. She was about 70 percent at the time and despite some reservations, Magro let her pitch. With her parents anxiously looking on, she didn’t make it through the inning. She had severe back pain.
Her doctors told her to give it another go, and 10 days later in the season finale against New Trier, she made it through two pain-free innings.
“That was a big step for Hef in her recovery,” Magro said. “It gave her the confidence and faith that she was going to be able to pitch again.”
Heflin started feeling 100 percent during the middle of the summer of 2011.
“I was working out almost every day trying to get my core and legs back in shape,” she said. “When I was feeling strong again I started to look like my old self when I pitched. However, I am still working on getting stronger every day.”
Her stats to date are astonishing. Heflin, who shares the pitching duties with sophomore Dale Ryndak, sister of now-graduated Kendall, has helped her team to a 15-1 record. In 59 innings, she has an earned run average of 0.56 with 115 strike outs, including a perfect game and a no-hitter. She owns an 8-1 record with two saves.
“There are several people that helped me through my injury,” said Heflin, who will attend UIC next season. “My mom and dad were by my side every day. They always said encouraging things to me. They are my rock, and I know I could not do it without them.
“My doctors knew I was going to come back from my injury strong and able to pitch again. My physical therapists at ATI helped me a lot because I was with them for a long time, and they got me strong again and helped me gain my confidence. They were almost like my second family.”