By: Brendan McGuigan, redshirt sophomore
On March 16th, 2016, I underwent Tommy John Surgery to repair the torn UCL in my pitching arm. As I am officially one year removed from surgery, I have been able to reflect on the roller coaster that the last year has been. Throughout this year-long process of rehab and recovery I have learned many valuable lessons that will serve me for the rest of my career, as well as in life beyond baseball.
Lesson 1: Life doesn’t always go according to your plans.
Entering last season as a sophomore, my hopes and expectations for the year were high. After a decent freshman season where I got more innings on the mound than I expected, I found myself in the starting rotation for opening weekend. I had put in the work in the offseason and felt fully prepared for the season to come. My body and my arm were feeling great, and I was nothing but confident as we were set to open up our season in Wilmington, North Carolina.
After picking up quality wins against St. John’s and Western Carolina in our first two games, the Sunday match-up against UNC Wilmington was my chance to help the team walk away from the weekend with a clean 3-0 record. Throughout warm-ups and the first two innings I felt great. My arm felt strong, and I was pitching well. In the third inning however, my forearm began to tighten up. Gradually, the tightness evolved into sharp pain, and before I knew it the pain was only growing. Finally, my elbow gave out and it felt like a knife went through my elbow when I threw. I threw five more pitches with the same excruciating sensation before I finally had to call time and leave the game.
On February 21st, 2016, in the third inning of my start on opening weekend, I tore the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in my right elbow. Just as the new baseball season was getting underway, mine came to a screeching halt.
Lesson 2: It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, as long as you keep getting up.
Growing up, my dad engrained this mantra into my inner being. “McGuigans are fighters,” he would say, “and theres nothing you can’t accomplish as long as you keep fighting. It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, as long as you keep getting back up and keep fighting.”
Over the course of this past year I got knocked down a lot. I got knocked down when we got back from Wilmington and I was sitting alone in the locker room at 2am crying on the phone with my mom. I got knocked down when I heard the words that I already knew were coming, “you need surgery.” I got knocked down when I would struggle to complete simple tasks with my left hand after surgery, like getting dressed, brushing my teeth, shaving, and eating. I got knocked down continuously throughout physical therapy and my throwing programs with set backs and the daily roller coaster of how my arm felt. There were times when I was demoralized and doubted whether I would ever be able to pitch again, but I refused to let these doubts and these low points last for very long. My dad’s voice would echo in my head and I forced myself to keep fighting. No matter how many times I felt like I had gotten knocked down, I continued to get back up with my sights fixed on the idea of pitching again in 2017.
Lesson 3: Embrace the process.
Prior to my injury I was driven by results. I was guilty of overlooking many of the simple and seemingly routine aspects of my game. Tommy John recovery has forced me to change this way of thinking. With all the ups and downs of the recovery process, it is impossible to focus solely on the results while maintaining a level head. Instead, I was forced to embrace the process and take it day by day. I celebrated the small victories like getting to extend my brace out another 15 degrees, or getting to throw ten feet further than the week before. Even on the bad days, I was able to embrace the process and recognize that everything I was doing was helping me get back on the mound again. I was incredibly lucky to have my athletic trainer at school, Nicole Lovejoy, helping me through each day. She has showed more patience with me than I thought was humanly possible. My rehab team of Scott Lando and Cullen Nigrini back in Austin, Texas, were also instrumental in not only getting me healthy again, but also in helping my mentality and outlook on the recovery process as a whole.
I never realized how much I took the game of baseball for granted until it was suddenly ripped away from me. Spending a season on the bench in a sling and a brace gave me plenty of time to come to this realization and reflect on how lucky I have been to have the opportunity to play at the collegiate level. After a year of recovery I am so thankful to be able to say that I am finally healthy again and back pitching in games. Tommy John Surgery has taught me many things, but most of all, it has taught me how lucky I am to wear “Richmond” across my chest, and to compete alongside my 30 best friends and brothers. I am honestly just relieved to finally be able to compete and contribute for my team again.
Editor’s Note: McGuigan made his first appearance on the hill for the Spiders on March 3 at Texas State. Ironically enough it was in his home state of Texas, and he threw a 1-2-3 inning. This story was also published on the one year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery.