UCCS softball pitcher Smith back after taking year off to care for brother
Becca Smith knows all about curveballs.
As a star pitcher for the Colorado-Colorado Springs softball team, she confounds hitters.
A little over a year ago, life threw her a curveball that would change her forever. It changed many lives.
Coming off a 2011 season in which she earned second-team all-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference honors, Smith was poised to have a huge senior year in 2012 with a loaded UCCS offense to support her.
Instead, she would be the one giving support. Her brother, Brett, had been battling leukemia and his last, best hope was to go to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a stem cell transplant. After a series of delays, Smith's parents - who live in Iowa - had used up their leave from work.
So on Jan. 10, weeks short of the beginning of softball season, Becca went to Houston to care for Brett, leaving her education and athletic career in limbo.
When informed of her situation, UCCS coach Scott Peterson simply said, "You have to go."
"When Becca told me she would have to leave, we knew it was the right decision," he said. "It was the perfect decision; an adult decision, a family decision and it was the right thing to do."
Becca became a full-time caregiver. Her life, which had revolved around academics and athletics for so long, was dedicated to Brett and his needs. She was his sister, his nurse and his lifeline. Maintaining any sort of balance was difficult.
"People are always telling you to take care of yourself, too," Becca said. "It's easy to get caught up in feeling bad for your family member and wanting to be there for them all of the time and not taking care of yourself."
Being without Becca didn't come without consequence for the Mountain Lions. A team that finished fifth nationally with a .351 batting average managed a pedestrian 22-23 record. A top pitcher like Smith could have easily meant a 10-game swing.
Her absence had a profound positive effect of their outlook. When faced with difficulties, thoughts would go back to Becca - and even more to Brett.
"When kids thought things were getting tough, we would say 'Are you serious? You think this is tough?'" Peterson said. "'This is just softball. This isn't that tough. What Becca and her family are going through, that's tough.'"
It was tough. And ultimately tragic.
Brett had his transplant Feb. 3. While a deterioration of his condition was expected, he landed in intensive care by early March, where he was twice put on life support because of fluid in his lungs.
By early April, he seemed to be on the mend. Becca's mother, Carmen, came to take over Brett's care on April 12, a Wednesday. Becca flew back to Colorado on Thursday and Friday and watched her teammates split a doubleheader against Regis. That same day, Brett, who had been seemingly cancer-free for 70 days, walked for the first time since his procedure.
But on Sunday, Becca got a stunning call. Brett's cancer had returned - aggressively. Monday, Brett passed away.
The team, which had already observed National Leukemia Day by wearing orange jerseys and ribbons, all dyed a streak of their hair orange in Brett's memory.
Becca returned to UCCS this fall. Peterson excused her from the team's 6 a.m. fall practices so she could complete the student-teaching requirement for her impending degree in special education. The university welcomed her back with open and accommodating arms.
So did her team, many of whom are still sporting an odd, blondish streak in their hair where the orange has worn off. She is 4-2 with a 3.53 ERA and leads the RMAC (over 15 innings) in strikeouts per game at 7.65. The team's home opener is at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Besides the solid stats, she sports a new outlook.
"I think I've learned to stay very positive with life and always try to find the good things in any situation," she said. "Always stay positive about things. When you hit crappy situations like that, that's all you can do.
"If you sit there and think about how bad it is, you're just going to go down with it."
Aside from her attitude, her experience as a caregiver has had another consequence, one that would be a living legacy to her brother.
She would like to return to school and become a nurse.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
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