Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An Interview with Stacie Chambers

In the teaser I posted on the Justin’s World Facebook page, I mentioned that this week would feature interviews with two softball superstars, and today’s featured athlete certainly fits that adjective.

A standout catcher for the Arizona Wildcats, Stacie Chambers is one of the biggest stars of this decade. She graduated in 2011, her final game coming in the super regional round where the Wildcats were defeated by the Sooners of Oklahoma. In 2010, the Wildcats advanced to the WCWS finals, where they took a couple of hard-fought losses to the UCLA Bruins.

Chambers was the true definition of a power hitter, occupying the ”clean-up” spot in Mike Candrea’s lineup for a good portion of her career and setting the school record for home runs. She came within three home runs of tying Stacey Nuveman’s conference and national record of ninety. (A fact I actually screwed up in the interview that she was forced to correct more than once. My apologies.)

In my opinion one of the best offensive players to play the game, Chambers’ playing career ended with the Wildcats’ loss to the Sooners in the Tucson Super. For me personally, it was sad to see such an awesome player’s career end when she was so close to a prestigious record and knowing that her playing career would not go any further.

It took some serious searching, very possibly the hardest I’ve ever worked to find contact information for an interview subject, to find Stacie’s email address, but the end result was very gratifying! I had the opportunity to interview one of my all-time favorite players and one of the greatest to ever play the game.

My special thanks to Ms. Chambers, who took time out of her busy schedule as an educator and a coach to do this interview.

Q: Why did you choose to attend school and play softball for the Wildcats?
I chose to attend University of Arizona because it was close to home and because I wanted to stay close to my family. I felt that I would get the best academic and softball education from a great university and the best coaching staff.  

Q: Y'all made the WCWS three out of the four seasons you played at the U of A. What was that experience like for you, and how did your multiple trips to the Series benefit you on the field?
Getting to attend the WCWS three out of four seasons with U of A was one of the best experiences I have ever had. It was an opportunity that many others did not get to experience. Each year, we had a different team and each year, we worked just as hard to get back to the WCWS. I will definitely never forget those experiences and they will be great memories forever.

Q: Arguably one of the biggest turning points in your career was when you suffered a traumatic brain injury during your freshman season that had lingering effects even some five years later. For those who don't know, can you tell a little bit about the injury; the recovery process; and what, if any, effects still lingering today?

My brain injury was definitely a huge turning point in my college career, which at that point had only been a few months long. I was at bat with a 3-2 count, during my 3rd college game. We were playing Central AZ College. I remember stepping into the batter’s box and after that I pretty much don’t remember anything except walking off the field with a really bloody mouth, and even at that, I barely remember this as well. Once I was at the hospital, my parents took pictures of my face to show me what I looked like. I had a really swollen face on the left side and my lip and teeth were completely messed up.  I had a CT scan done and it showed that I had no bleeding or anything in my brain and then I had surgery the next morning to close up my lip. It took a few months for me to even get diagnosed with my TBI because my doctors said that I had just suffered a concussion and that it would get better with time. I kept going downhill and started making dumb decisions and ultimately got suspended from the team because of those decisions and then after that, I was finally diagnosed with my TBI through neuropsychological testing, which showed that I had damage to my frontal lobe. The frontal lobe controls decision-making, personality, moods, etc. My life was flipped upside down in a matter of a second. Everyone saw my physical injury, but they could not see my brain injury because it was an internal one. My recovery process was a long road filled with a major personality change due to the damage in my brain, anger issues, irrational decision making, and impulsivity, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Due to my injury, I ended up sitting out the entire year from softball and eventually used my redshirt year. During this recovery time, I went through cognitive speech therapy because I had trouble speaking clearly and finding words that made sense in my sentences. I had trouble remembering short-term things, but not long-term things. I also had to go sit in a hyperbaric chamber for an hour a day, for a few months to help my brain heal. I’m not too sure on the reasoning for this, because I don’t remember it, but my doctors were firm believers in them, so I trusted them and did what they said. I also eventually started having vision problems and began doing vision therapy at least 3-4 times per week before practice. Vision issues meaning the way my brain comprehends what I am seeing. I had trouble tracking the ball once I got back into playing ball again. That was a major struggle for me because, it was hard for me to hit the ball and also to watch the ball when I was catching or doing anything softball related. To this day, I still have lingering issues such as anger, irritability, vision issues that have improved, impulsivity, trouble remember things, and I also have the horrible habit of interrupting people when they are speaking because if I don’t spit out what I am thinking, then I will forget whatever it is that I wanted to say. I still learn new things about myself every day and there are things I wish I could change, but I can’t. Brain injuries never heal or get better, you just have to learn to accommodate the issues that arise and deal with them as they come.

Q: You currently hold the record for most career home runs for the Wildcats program, but you fell just one short of the all-time NCAA record. What was the "chase for the record" like for you at the time, and how disappointed were you that you didn't reach that threshold?

Correction, I believe I was 3 short of tying the record and 4 shy of breaking the record. I finished with 87 career home runs and the record was 90, held by UCLA's Stacey Nuveman. At any rate, the chase for the record was really never on the forefront of my mind. I figured if I was going to break it, I was going to break it. If I didn’t then I didn’t. To have the number of home runs I did was already a feat that I never thought I would accomplish especially after getting my TBI. I felt completely blessed and lucky to have even had the opportunity to go back and play ball after I got hurt. I was never really disappointed in the fact that I didn’t break the record because the numbers that I did put up, were better than a bunch of other players already and so, I still looked at the numbers as a huge success for me after everything that I had gone through. It ís definitely an honor to be on the same list as previous players who also left their mark on college softball.

Q: When your career ended just one round-tripper short of the record, what were your feelings? You had - and still have - the schooI record, but to come so close to the national record and not reach it... what was your attitude after the final game ended?

Again, I believe I was 3 short of tying the record and 4 shy of breaking the record. I finished with 87 career home runs and the record was 90, held by UCLA’s Stacey Nuveman. I was not disappointed in myself at all for not breaking the NCAA record. I look at that list now and my name is on there with amazing players from the past and I can honestly say that I have no complaints about where I finished on the list. Yes, number one would have been nice, but I am number two and that’s still a great accomplishment. Looking back on my final game, it was bittersweet; I knew that once I was done with that game that I was not going to play softball again even if I had the opportunity because after everything I had been through.  It had worn me out because, my life as a whole was a major struggle due to my head injury. Looking back on my five years spent at Arizona playing for the Wildcats, it was really the best five years of my life. Going through everything I went through with my TBI and my family, coaches and teammates, I would not change it for the world. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget and that will always play a huge part in the making of who I am today.

Q: Since your softball playing career ended, I see that have become a teacher. Was education always your career field of choice?

After I finished my softball-playing career and graduated from Arizona with my BA in Psychology and a minor in Sociology, I moved to FarmingtonNew Mexico to pursue a coaching career at the high school level. I was offered an assistant coaching job at Farmington High School and I took it immediately and later applied for a teaching position that opened up a short time later. When I moved to New Mexico, I had heard of an alternative licensure program to get my teaching certification. I had always wanted to become a teacher, but because of academic struggles during my time at Arizona due to my head injury, I was not able to major in Education there. I have always wanted to be a Special Education teacher and after getting my head injury, I became even more sure that it was the career I wanted to pursue. I enrolled back into college here in Farmington at San Juan College and began taking the courses required to obtain my teaching certification in Special Education and Secondary Education. I am also pursuing a Gifted Education endorsement as well. Right now, I am working in my second year at Farmington High School as a Gifted Teacher/Case Manager. I love my job and I love the students that I am surrounded by every day!

Q: I also see that you coach the school's softball team... what is that like, to be leading young girls from the dugout instead of yelling out signals on the field?

I am an assistant coach at Farmington High. I love coaching these girls and I love being able to pass on my knowledge of the game to players and athletes who also want to go play softball at the next level. It ís completely different being a coach. The transition from player to coach is definitely a tough one because I would love to be out there on the field playing, but I always remind myself that I am helping all these kids get better so they can pursue their dreams as well.  

Q: Is coaching at the collegiate level something you would like to or hope to pursue in the future?

As of right now, I do not have any plans of pursuing a collegiate level coaching career. I don’t know what the future holds for me as far as coaching goes, but as of right now, all I plan on doing is continuing my teaching career.

Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, and you could have three things, what would they be? Cell phones and boats are off-limits.

If I were stranded on a deserted island, I would take my I-pod because I love music. I would also take pictures of the people closest to me in my life. Lastly, I would take my favorite blanket.

Q: If a movie was going to be made about your life, who would play you? What would you title your film?
If my life was going to be made into a movie, I would have Hilary Swank play my character and I would call the movie “Catching Life” because it would be a movie based on my life and the difficulties I’ve faced so far in my personal, academic, and athletic life.

Q: If you could sit down and have dinner with any three people from history, who would they be and why?

If I could sit down and have dinner with any three people from history, I would sit down with baseball player Ted Williams because he is my favorite old school baseball player, Abraham Lincoln because he is an important American figure, and lastly, Rebel Wilson because she is one of my favorite comedy actresses.

Q: If you were equipped with any super power imaginable, what would you want it to be?

If I was equipped with any super power imaginable, I would want the ability to teleport to anywhere I want, whenever I want because sometimes I really just hate traveling and being patient and having to wait for things!

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