Softball player competes at all costs

Photo credit: Jeff Herndon

When Robyn Burnette was four years old, she craved the athleticism and competition that most people her age couldn’t even comprehend. For this WCU softball player sports is everything and is worth the pain.

“I bugged the crap out of her [Burnette’s mom] and my dad until signups came along and they signed me up every year after,” recalls Burnette.

From that year on she played every level of softball from t-ball, on up to middle school and when she reached high school Burnette faced a challenge. Her high school, Pisgah High School, didn’t have a softball team.

However, she was not discouraged and instead played for her rival high school , Tuscola Falls High School, during her senior year.

Before coming to Western, Burnette finished her high school career on the Carolina Cardinals, a traveling team.

While playing for the Carolina Cardinals Burnette discovered someone who would help her succeed and encourage her softball career, Rick McHone. McHone was her head coach for the traveling team and eventually became Burnette’s favorite coach.

At 5’4 and barley 115 lbs Burnette isn’t you ideal softball player size.

“He [McHone] always told me to play at the next level and not to listen to those who tell me I’m too little because size didn’t matter”.

“Robyn was a fierce competitor who would make plays at all costs and was not afraid to sacrifice her body to win,” describes McHone.

Even playing at the collegiate level now, starting at 2009, Burnette is still sacrificing her body. During her sophomore year, while diving into a base, Burnette injured her ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) (the UCL is located on the inside of the elbow, and also connects the ulna to the humerus). As the injury healed the scare tissue trapped the nerve to where it couldn’t move.

“Where the never couldn’t move, every time I would move or bend my arm the nerve just stretched causing ulnar nerve decomposition,” explaines Burnette.

In November 2011, Burnette had her first surgery but soon reinjured it doing power cleans during training. The doctors hoped that if she limited her arm use it would eventually heal itself.

“It was a week before school when I met with my doctor, and that’s when we decided to schedule a second surgery on my arm.”

“I have no limits with hitting or running, but still am not throwing 100% yet. We are taking it a little slow to ensure that I don’t re-injure it again. The only thing that ever bothers me with my arm now is when it gets cold, rains, or snows it will ache and hurt. But other than that this past surgery has shown successful and is good so far.”

It seems like Burnette is constantly fighting to keep her head up and that started ever before she even thought about college. At the end of Burnette’s 6th grade year her mom, Kim, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
While her mom went through treatment Burnette found an escape in softball.

“It was just the one place that I could go and just let go of everything,” explained Burnette. “I knew that as soon as I stepped out on to the field, regardless if it was practice or a game, that nothing else mattered. It was just me and what I loved to do.”

McHorn was her coach during this time said her determination is contagious.

“She didn’t seem to let things bother her on the field although I know it had to be on her mind but you couldn’t tell by her play,” McHorn explains.

Burnette’s dad, William, also shares the carefree feeling the softball field provides.

“He [William] has just shared my love of the game with me and is used being at the field with me as his sort of escape from everything we’ve been through as a family,” said Burnette. “ I do have to comment on the stereotype of all softball players being gay. Yes there are some player who are [homosexual], but not all of us are just because we play softball.”

Burnette doesn’t just stand up for the stereotypes of softball but is also admired by her fellow teammates.

“ I definitely look up to Robyn in softball because when we are both down in our game she has a way of keeping a positive attitude, and she never stops working hard even when she is injured, like when she asked to be put in the game when another player was sick,” said Alex Church, sophomore  and former teammate.

McHone also sees Burnette as great player.

“ She leads by example. Her attitude, play, and competitive spirit forces others to step up their game.”

As Burnette’s senior year begins to end she only hopes to do one thing during her final season next year, and that is to “play wise”.

But as McHone describes her as a “very gritty ball player” it seems worrying about getting hurt is a new step for Burnette.

“I just want the chance to show them even though I had surgery I’m the same player I was before, the one that made the [SOCON] All Freshman Team and I just want the same chances that were given to me before,” said Burnette .

Nothing seems like it can get Robyn Burnette down or stop her from reaching whatever dreams she may have.

“ I know I can get the job done and I know I am the same athlete I have always been regardless of my involvement on campus or my surgery”.