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Back from the brink...

COC's Sarah Hasenfus shows determination in overcoming serious brain injury.

Posted: April 15, 2008 3:57 p.m.
Updated: June 16, 2008 5:02 a.m.

College of the Canyons' second baseman Sarah Hasenfus was practicing her batting and fielding Monday. She was struck by a foul ball last year and suffered a serious head injury. She is working her way back to the team in '08.

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The way College of the Canyons softball player Sarah Hasenfus sees it, everyone should hear her story.
She doesn't want what she went through to happen to anyone else.

Hasenfus was in the dugout with her team up to bat in a game on Feb. 14, 2006. She was reaching to grab some water, momentarily taking her eyes off what was happening at the plate.

A teammate hit a screaming foul ball into the dugout and Hasenfus didn't have time to react. The ball hit the right side of her head and she fell to the ground.

"Sarah fell and she was out for only a couple of seconds," said teammate Courtney Ferrell, a Valencia graduate. "She got up like everything was fine."

But things were anything but fine.

"During the game she would start talking and forget what she was saying," Ferrell recalls. "And she was stuttering and even started to drool a little bit."

Hasenfus' parents weren't at the game that day and Ferrell said many of the COC parents suggested Hasenfus should go to the hospital. The trainer said it wasn't necessary. The Canoga Park graduate stayed on the bench the rest of the game and when it was over, a friend's mother took her to the hospital.

"I had the worst headache ever," Hasenfus said. "Oh my God. I had never had pain like that before."

The doctors said Hasenfus had bleeding on her brain. She spent 10 days in the hospital and half of those in intensive care. Essentially, she had a stroke.

Hasenfus says the ball hit her in the part of your brain where all your speech and communication happens. She says she even had to practice walking again before leaving the hospital.

"Basically the doctor said I got hit by a car going 60 miles an hour to that spot," she said. "If I got hit anywhere else on my head I'd be dead, but the spot it hit had just enough to cushion that blow."

She left the hospital 10 days later, but the road to recovery was just beginning.

Hasenfus couldn't do anything athletic for six months. For a person who played three sports in high school and played soccer and softball at COC, she said not being able to be active made her depressed for awhile.

She couldn't be in elevations 1,000 feet higher or lower than where she lived for the first year and a half, or it might cause more bleeding on her brain.

In the spring of 2007, Hasenfus tried to come back. She registered for classes and tried out for the softball team.

It turned out to be too soon for both. Three weeks into the semester, it was too overwhelming, and Hasenfus sat down with her parents and decided to take more time off.

"I actually tried out last spring for the team," Hasenfus says. "They'd hit ground balls and I'd be so nervous I'd pull away."

This fall, Hasenfus played soccer and in the spring, decided to try out again.

"I knew if I didn't face my fears and not play the sport again I was just going to be ruined," she added. "I didn't want to have to be scared to play the sport that I loved. I knew I had to face it."

The Cougars are glad she did.

It was a year where COC struggled to have enough players to fill out their roster. Longtime head coach Ray Whitten retired and John Wissmath took over.

She plays second base for COC this season.

"This year she's just been a gamer," Wissmath says. "She's gone out and taken charge of the infield."

At second base, Hasenfus says she doesn't worry about getting hit in the head again. But if the dugout doesn't have a full fence, like at Antelope Valley College where the team played on Saturday, she wears a helmet in the dugout.

The injury to Hasenfus has brought a lot of change, as well. She claims that at the youth leagues she playedfor and at her high school, they have replaced the dugout fences. They are now higher and protect the players more.

After the season Hasenfus got hurt, COC also extended the fences on its softball field. Hasenfus says she'd like to figure out a way to talk to kids and parents alike about her story, just so people are aware of what can happen.

"I wanted to spread the news about what happened to me," she said. "I know a lot of coaches don't like the fences high, but honestly, I don't want anyone to have to go though what I went through. It was really bad."

It was an ordeal that set Hasenfus back about a year and a half both academically and athletically. But Ferrell said it's no surprise that Hasenfus has come back to be one of the better players for the Cougars this year.

"This season she's taking it so well," Ferrell said. "She's not scared to dive, she's not scored to get hit. She's something special. If you know Sarah, you know she'll come back from that kind of stuff."

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