Hitting the perfect pitch, getting the right angle, reading the ball off the bat, throwing a girl out at home- the game of softball is one of intensity, communication, and speed. It takes athleticism, detail, and precision to play- and play well.
Now, imagine trying to hit that perfect pitch while blind-folded, or running down a ball with no idea where it was hit. Playing the game, even without perfect vision, is difficult but add in the obstacle of not being able to fully communicate makes the game even harder.
For one special player, this obstacle was a challenge she was willing to face head-on.
Haley Donaldson is a sophomore on the Colorado State University Women’s Softball team. Throughout her 20 years she has had numerous athletic successes which have led her to become a stand-out on any team she plays for. All of this, however, was not achieved easily.
The story was told to Haley by her parents which she tells with little-to-no recollection of the occurrence. As a toddler, she was in the kitchen with her parents and older brother. Her father began banging pots and pans together loudly which crafted a foul response from her brother but not even a flinch from her. Confused and off-put, her dad got closer while continuing to beat the kitchen-ware together- still no response. It was at that moment that her parents realized that their little girl was deaf.
“They rushed me to the hospital,” explained Haley, “and the doctors diagnosed me with severe [hearing loss] in both ears.”
With all of this happening at such a young age, the minor details are hard for her to recall. She does remember, though, how her life began to change.
At five-and-a-half years old, a year after her right ear had gone profound, the brave little girl underwent a six-hour long surgery. The procedure allowed for the doctors to implant a hearing device which would allow Haley the opportunity to hear, though not to the same degree as the average person.
A few months after the procedure, an anxious six-year-old went to her doctor to get her hearing-aid turned on. Since then, she has been forging her way through multiple sports, classes, and hardships.
When asked to explain the difficulty and change from getting the hearing-aid, Haley responded with this; “When you’re that young you don’t really notice a difference. One, I don’t really remember and, two, I was so young that I didn’t understand that I had an implant and that I was deaf.”
This innocence that Haley had was a large part in her ability to play, regardless of her differences compared to the other children. No matter the sport, no matter the age, Haley was right there competing to be the best.
As she aged, more difficulties began to surface. The pace of the class and the field were all much quicker and Haley had some catching up to do.
“I remember failing a paper in middle school.” Haley recalled her first true run-in with the difficulty of English and understanding it. “There are still times when it is hard for me to understand what people are saying.”
Failing is not an easy thing to accept as an athlete. The countless hours you spend working to perfect the game usually constitutes the desire to want perfection. Unfortunately, failing is an undeniable part of it all. The game itself has unspoken rules of never being perfect, that no person can be that quintessential player that makes no mistake.
So yes, there are hours upon hours that are put in through early mornings and late days, through long weekends and multiple days of training day-in and day-out. All for the promise that you will never be perfect. Yet you try.
As mentioned before, failing is not easy but neither is quitting. When it all seems to be too much, the little voice inside your head telling you to quit it trumped by the love you have for the game. However, it is not always the voice inside your head that is ready to give up but instead the voices from those whom should be guiding you to your very best- your coaches.
For Haley, this was the part she found to be most difficult.
As a standout player throughout high-school- and years before- Haley caught the attention of multiple collegiate programs. One of those universities had a solid resume and seeded itself high in the ranks for Haley’s choice of continued education: Nebraska.
A Big 10 school is among the dreams of many athletes who wish to continue their competitive sports after high school. Haley could not wait to become a Cornhusker. After verbalizing her commitment her junior year of high school, the young softball player waited anxiously to put her talents to use on the “Big Red” field.
August of her freshman year approached and she made her way east to the neighboring state. The year since agreeing came so quickly and she had to wait no longer.
All her hopes and dreams, however, had not owned up to the hype. After just a semester, Haley could tell that this was not what she was hoping for.
“Th[at] was not the type of atmosphere I wanted to be in,” said Haley while reflecting on the past year, “and I knew I couldn’t stay in it any longer.”
Giving it her all and ‘all’ coming up short, Haley pushed through and finished her freshman year. With no set plan, other to return home to Fort Collins, she ended the year and said her goodbyes. When I asked why she felt that CSU was the place to continue her softball career and her worries of what it would be like, this was her response:
“The coaches have to understand where I am coming from. They have to break it down and take time to communicate to me.”
Thankfully, the coaches here understand how special Haley is and know that the challenges that faced both them and Haley were worth the battle. The softball player’s disability is trumped by her abilities. The coaches and teammates that Haley has now, however, see more to her than what she can do.
This special player has made her way in to the hearts of so many here at CSU. One teammate has nothing but praise for the newbie. Hannah McCorkhill, a senior on the team commented on the transfer.
“She is one of the best middle-infielders I’ve ever played with. She plays the game with such grace and passion,” says McCorkhill. “All despite the fact that she can’t hear.”
Many of the other players on the team feel the same way and hold a special place for Haley in their hearts. And Haley seems to feel the same way.
“I didn’t even know if I wanted to play college softball anymore,” said Donaldson, “but the coaches here get me to where I need to be and take the time to help me build my skill. My teammates here are awesome, too.”
Even though there was fear of a repetitive story that started in Nebraska, the tides have turned and things are looking up for this fighter.
The road to get where she is now having not been an easy one, Haley has endured many obstacles to become an incredible athlete with an even more amazing story. The positivity that she shows day-in and day-out is intoxicating and contagious. Though she has a disadvantage compared to others in the sport, her lack of hearing is made up for with an immeasurable amount heart and a great passion for playing the game.
Only her first year at CSU, Haley’s story is one that can change the lives of so many after her. Crushing the stigmas that may arise from critiques who believe that a disability is only as such, a door has opened for many young athletes who face the same challenges that Haley has and does.
Even if the path to where she is now being not what she had hoped, her trailblazing efforts to get here have forged a way for many athletes following behind.
“Every day I should just wake up and enjoy the moment that I am in.” Haley said with a smile on her face. “The process is a rollercoaster- ya know- there is its ups and downs. It’s fun at some points and some points its terrifying but before you know it, the rides over.”
You can hear more of the details of Haley’s story here with this podcast.