Softball is Holly Phillips' life, but a medical condition almost kept her off the field for good. The Windsor Academy senior refused to let her dream die, and now she's going to pitch for Georgia State University.
At Windsor on Tuesday morning, Phillips was surrounded by family, teammates, peers and school staff as she signed a letter of intent with the Panthers. She will be the first Windsor student to play fast-pitch softball for a Division 1 college, athletic director Jimmy Watts said.
Holly was diagnosed with Chiari malformation at age 12. It's a condition where the back of the brain extends into the spinal canal, creating pressure and causing headaches, according to Mayo Clinic. Holly's headaches were worse than migraines, said her mother, Rachel Phillips. She would have to lie in the dark on ice packs and sleep for about two days.
In fall 2016, she began experiencing more problems, pain and dizziness, which progressed to temporary paralysis and landed her in the hospital, said her mother, Rachel Phillips. It was four days before she could walk again, and a week before she had her normal stride back.
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Still, she was determined to play in the state softball championship, which was in three weeks. That determination got her back in playing condition in time to help her team take home its third straight title. A week later on Oct. 21, she underwent brain surgery and began a yearlong road to recovery.
Doctor's wanted her to stay out of school for a full two weeks, but she was begging to get back after the first, Rachel said. She got permission to attend classes for a half day that second week.
"She was bound and determined, because it's been a life goal of hers to play softball in college," Rachel said. "After her surgery, she worked really hard and started getting back on the field in January to try to start rebuilding her skills."
Holly has been on Windsor's softball team since sixth grade and played travel softball since she was about 6 years old, her mother said. Holly said her love of the game kept her going amid the health challenges. Softball allows her to relax, forget her worries and "just be me."
During a time when most people would have given up, Holly pushed through to fulfill her dream and support her team, said Leighann Newberry, Windsor's softball coach.
Windsor senior Taylor Osborn, who's played softball with Holly for more than a decade, said her friend is a leader who is always there for her teammates. When the other players were reminding her to put her health first, Holly just wanted to get back onto the field with them.
"Holly is the epitome of hard work. She's lived, breathed and eaten softball for years," Watts said.
Holly has been doing well since her surgery, Rachel said. She gets shots every three months to prevent headaches, and she hasn't had to see her neurologist in nine months. She can do most normal activities, although she has some limits — like no roller coaster, jerky activities or contact sports.
A scholarship will cover most of Holly's education at Georgia State, her mother said. She will move onto the Atlanta campus Aug. 15 and start softball practice Aug. 20, Holly said. Her experience with Chiari malformation has sparked her interest in how the brain works and inspired her to study neuroscience.