Shelby Duggard doesn't remember softball not being part of her life. And although the high school junior can no longer play, she's doing the best she can to keep it a big part of her life.
Duggard has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS. The website rarediseases.info.nih.gov describes POTS as a condition characterized by too little blood returning to the heart when moving from a lying-down to a standing-up position.
In her terms: "Mainly the biggest issue is my heart rate is so abnormal I have issues when I stand. I'm in a wheelchair. It's super hard for me to walk. When I stand up, all my blood goes to my legs. I get blurry vision. Basically it all starts from my heart beating too fast."
Duggard said her problems began shortly after she returned home from College Station, Texas, where her 16-under Frost Falcons select team, headed by her father and longtime summer coach, Victor, played in an Amateur Softball Association national tournament last August. Within a few weeks she was seeing a cardiologist at Vanderbilt.
"You don't prepare yourself for something like that," said Tim Couch, athletic director and her former coach at Silverdale Baptist Academy the two years she played in high school. "You can't imagine what Victor and (wife) Michele are going through, but Shelby has had the best attitude about it. I don't know how I would've reacted as a 17-year-old."
Hoping her symptoms soon would pass, Shelby went on a recruiting visit in early September to Shorter University in Rome, Ga. But the inevitable of having to give up playing began to sink in by October.
"I kind of thought it was something I could push through," Shelby said. "Being an athlete, you think you can push through things."
Shelby remembers playing softball before she started school. Once she started school, she balanced the two nicely.
A top-flight student, Shelby was also a standout hitter, pitcher and middle infielder in high school. Last season her 15-1 pitching record, 1.07 earned run average, .408 batting average and 35 RBIs helped Silverdale advance all the way to the Class A state-championship game.
"Sometimes you leave as a coach and you worry about them," said Couch, who resigned as softball coach after last season. "But we had a bunch of good people coming back, we had Shelby and other good leadership, and this happened."
Oddly, Shelby's younger brother Jacob, a freshman, was diagnosed with the same disorder in January 2015. Victor said the disorder is known to be common in siblings, but the news about Shelby was devastating nonetheless.
The Duggard children are home-schooled, taking online courses recommended by Silverdale, while mom monitors.
"It's super hard for me to comprehend things now," Shelby said. "I used to be a straight-A student.
"I don't know about college at this point. If I'm better, I'd love to go to college. Right now I just can't say."
Shelby was also a cheerleader at Silverdale her sophomore year. She has received a few tributes since her diagnosis, including from the cheer team at a home basketball date called "Shelby Strong" night. T-shirts were printed. She also received a "key to the school" during a presentation.
That night Shelby received flowers, which also happened again this spring. District 5 rival Arts & Sciences brought them when the Lady Patriots played softball at Silverdale.
"That was really sweet," she said.
Glen Woodard, who was hired as Silverdale's softball coach in December, never saw Shelby play. Still, he gave her the same gear the other girls got this season, and wearing her No. 6 jersey is off limits to anyone else.
Shelby attends home games and some away games. She goes to team Bible study once a week. With the ongoing athlete's mentality of "pushing through things," she intends to travel to Murfreesboro should Silverdale (11-2, 2-0) make a return trip to the state tournament.
"Of course I'd be there," she said. "I want to support them as much as I can."
Shelby repeatedly has proven to be a battler, a team player and a spiritual person. In her case, POTS could just as easily be an acronym for "positive outlook tackling struggles."
"We include her in everything," Woodard said. "She's still a part of Silverdale's softball team, even though she can't be on the field with us. As far as I'm concerned, she will be until she graduates. Then she'll be a Silverdale alumni softball player.
"I met her for the first time one afternoon. She was in a wheelchair. She never led me to believe that she was down about what happened to her. I've had conversations with her at the ballfield, at basketball games, at (teammate) Skylar Parton's signing (with Cleveland State). You start talking with her and you can figure out that she's probably a better person than she was a ballplayer."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter @KelleySmiddie.