Shane Combs


My name is Shane Combs, and I am a senior pitcher on the baseball team at Notre Dame.  In my very last appearance as a high schooler, I blew out my ulnar collateral ligament in my elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery to repair it. I The surgery took place that July, just a few weeks before heading to Notre Dame to start my freshman year.  The recovery would take the whole year, so I redshirted and did not play.  I spent my first college baseball season watching from the stands or on my laptop as my teammates played and traveled without me.  I felt completely isolated from my team but soon I would be healthy again, and as a sophomore I knew I’d have the chance to contribute.  When fall ball started my sophomore year, my elbow was back to normal, save for a 6 inch scar tracing the inside of my arm. But only a month into the fall, I hurt my shoulder.  After rest and rehab and trying to return to pitching again, an MRI showed I had shredded my labrum.  This news devastated me, and I didn’t understand why I was the one getting hurt.  I had just rehabbed for an entire year for my elbow, spending extra time in the weight room and training room pushing to get healthy.  I didn’t deserve another injury, and I let my sorrows get the best of me.  It wasn’t until that November that my attitude would change for the better.  My strength coach approached me, and simply asked why I was walking around every day defeated.  With that question, he challenged me to change my attitude and attack my rehab with the same passion that I felt for pitching.  Surgery followed that December, when I had half of my labrum arthroscopically trimmed and removed.  This surgery had been a setback, but it shouldn’t have meant the end of my pitching career.  On a freezing cold day in March, I made my college debut, eclipsing 90mph with my fastball and striking out the only two batters I faced.  My coach gave me the game ball, and triumphantly I finally had made my return to the playing field.  Except, I hadn’t.  A week later, I woke up unable to lift my throwing arm from my side.  Back in the MRI tube I went, and that May I went for my third arm surgery, another arthroscopic operation to remove debris and trip my labrum.  Only this time, once they were in my shoulder, they found a rupturing bicep tendon.  What should’ve been an arthroscopy with a short recovery became a bicep tenodesis.  They cut the shredding tendon, drilled a hole in the head of my humerus, and used a screw to affix the loose end of my bicep in that hole.  I woke up from surgery to this news, again devastated that recovery would be much longer than expected.  Worse, this surgery meant I may not throw as hard anymore, if at all. My doctor told me I was at my limit; any more injuries and I could start to have life long shoulder problems. He couldn’t make me not pitch, but he couldn’t recommend that I try.  After so much time out of serious competition, my junior season was forgettable. I made four ugly appearances, struggling to throw strikes.  What I needed was time and practice, things I could ill afford at that time if I wanted to play in any games.  I finished the year healthy, spent the summer training and resting my arm, and now I’m about to finish my senior year of fall ball.  For the first time, I’ve gone through fall ball completely healthy, hopefully en route to a dominant senior season.  The lessons that came from my injuries are plentiful, but let me share the most important ones I learned.  First, there is life outside sports.  I had friends and family supporting me the whole way, and at some point I realized that I didn’t need to pitch for them to see me as me. When you’re injured, you can feel like your whole identity is compromised, so never forget that you’re still yourself, and your belonging never comes into question just because you’re hurt.  Second, attitude is everything.  You can play the victim, ask “why me?!”, and sulk, or you can buckle down and be tenacious about recovery.  Taking ownership of the recovery process gives you freedom to still push yourself physically every day.  Be positive but be real.  It’s okay to be scared, nervous, anxious about if and when you’ll play again.  Lean on your teammates and push them to continue to get better too.  Stay engaged mentally.  This will all go a long way when you return to the field.  Finally, be proud of your scars.   They may not look pretty, but they are badges of courage and determination.  My injuries drove me to be a better person in so many ways other than in baseball.  The grit it takes to stay positive, attack rehab, stay engaged with your teammates, and eventually return to the field can drive you to excel in so many things other than sports.  So wear your scars proudly, they have made you who you are.  

Bailey Cartwright