Samantha Camuso knew as soon as it happened.
While taking batting practice over winter break, Camuso felt a sharp pain in her left hip. Having experienced the same sensation once before, Camuso knew exactly what it meant. An MRI a few days later confirmed her worst fear: There was a tear, and the redshirt senior infielder would require surgery.
Camuso thought her career was over; her on-field time at UCLA had already been cut short by two prior surgeries.
Knowing another surgery would mean the end of her playing career, Camuso decided to postpone surgery so that she could finish out her final year of eligibility on the team, regardless of the pain she would suffer and the countless trips to the trainer’s room she knew she’d have to make.
“At that point it really didn’t matter to me,” Camuso said. “It’s my senior season, and I’m going to finish it out strong regardless of how my injuries are affecting me.”
As a freshman, Camuso was one of three players to start in all 60 games for UCLA and was named a Top-25 finalist for the USA Softball Player of the Year award.
While warming up during the Women’s College World Series in 2008, Camuso’s shoulder became an issue. She underwent surgery in January and would miss her sophomore season.
“I thought it was life and death,” Camuso said of the injury. “I didn’t really know how to handle it. I was a head case. I was depressed. I thought it was the end of the world because I had never missed a game prior to that, so to sit out and watch my team was very difficult.”
After taking a medical redshirt year in 2009, it seemed as if Camuso had fully recovered from the first major injury of her softball career. Camuso came back to play in 2010 and helped lead the Bruins to the school’s 11th NCAA title with a win over Arizona in the Women’s College World Series. Camuso was named to the Women’s College World Series All-Tournament team after batting .375 with three home runs and seven RBIs.
But she was dealt another blow shortly after her successful return. Her right hip would require surgery in the offseason, which appeared likely to wipe out most of her junior year.
Camuso had her surgery in December 2010 with the hopes of being able to return toward the end of the season, but she said that she didn’t perform nearly as well as she expected.
“Mostly, my mentality wasn’t there,” Camuso said. “It had a lot to do with not being confident in myself and my body and just (being) more worried about what I couldn’t do than what I could do.”
Camuso started in just 22 games that year and had the lowest batting average of her career, hitting .190 with just two RBIs.
“I was still struggling with the “˜what if’s.’ What if I had been fully healthy? I was just feeling like, “˜You’re letting down your team because you’re not giving 100 percent of what you think you should be,’” Camuso said.
Camuso came back determined to make the most of her final season, and then suffered a similar injury to her left hip.
“When she came back and said that she had another injury, that it had happened again, it was devastating for the team just because (she’s) more than just a softball player, she’s a leader out there,” coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said.
At first, Camuso did not want to inform the team of the injury, but Inouye-Perez told the team during a meeting; Camuso was showered with nothing but support.
“This is basically exactly where she was last year,” senior first baseman Dani Yudin said. “She’s in the same exact spot, and she knows every single day she is going to be in pain, and that’s incredible.”
Because of the injury to her hip, Camuso has played almost exclusively as a designated player this season.
Despite the injury, which has forced her to make physical changes to her swing, Camuso has played in 46 of 51 games for UCLA.
“She almost redefined what competitive greatness is. She has endured a great deal of pain and challenges throughout her career, yet she can get out there and still be a productive Bruin, probably running at less than 50 percent throughout her career,” Inouye-Perez said.
Amazingly, Camuso is on pace to finish with the highest single-season batting average of her career, currently hitting .378 on the year with 12 home runs and 44 RBI.
UCLA (35-16, 11-10 Pac-12) currently sits fourth in the conference standings with three games to go before the postseason, and a championship run is not out of the question for the Bruins in Camuso’s final year.
“This team definitely has the talent to do it. Our pieces are starting to come together at the right time. … It’s not what I pictured my career to be, but I still have this season, and I’m just going to make the most of it.”
Each time the bat leaves her shoulder, Camuso experiences pain and discomfort, but it is nothing compared to the pain and discomfort she would have felt had she not been able to play her final season.
And so she continues to swing away knowing each swing will bring more pain and anguish.
But in the end, she takes each cut with sheer pride because no swing will hurt her more than her final one.