NFA softball pitcher Wolfe, post-injury, sets sights high
April 19, 2007
She says she doesn’t worry.
But every time Gretchen Wolfe is hit with a softball, the Newburgh Free Academy senior pitcher thinks about it. Any time her right foot feels tingly, she thinks about it.
About how even the slightest breeze would cause the stabbing pain in that right foot to flare up. How that pain kept her off a field for two years.
That even though her doctor says the chances of another flare-up are minimal, it will always be with her.
Wolfe is one of the 200,000 to 1.2 million Americans living with Rexflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS): a chronic condition in which the body’s sympathetic nervous system responds to a traumatic event — like an injury — by sending constant, abnormal pain signals to the brain.
Wolfe’s story begins on Oct. 20, 2003, about two months into her freshman volleyball season, when she broke her right kneecap diving for a ball.
She says it didn’t hurt that much; she wasn’t even fitted for a cast.
But then Wolfe’s right foot began to turn blue and feel cold. Then there was the pain: “like a million knives stabbing my foot,” she said.
A week after she was hurt, Wolfe was diagnosed with RSDS. Wolfe underwent 13 surgical procedures over the next year to reset her nervous system. “They’d shut it down and start again,” she said. She did physical therapy — 153 sessions, she kept count. She used crutches — she had to learn how to walk again.
And she had to stay off the field. “For me to sit there and watch people play — it was so hard,” she said.
By June 2005, Wolfe thought she was ready to play again. She began to pitch for her travel softball team. Her foot began to ache, but she thought she could get through it.
Then it turned blue again. The pain was back.
“I was really scared after that,” she said.
Back to rehab. Wolfe finally got back on the softball field last spring. This time, she was back to stay. In her first game, she threw a perfect game against Washingtonville. “My leg felt perfect all year,” she said.
Now, she wants to pitch Newburgh to a Section 9 Class AA title before she graduates. When she heads to Division III Roanoke (Va.) College, she wants to study athletic training.
She wants to help athletes manage and cure their pain. Pain she had to manage for two years.
Pain she’s reminded of with every softball that hits her body, and every twinge of her right foot.