Coming off one of her strongest pitching seasons in her collegiate softball career, senior Krista Cobb had boosted the expectations of herself and set even higher goals for her team. In the fall of 2011, it came as a devastating shock that Cobb's senior year would not play out quite as she had planned. In fact, the senior superstar would not be able to play at all.
After being diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) – a compression of the nerves in her right (pitching) shoulder and super-scapular nerve damage – what began as a perfect journey for Cobb, soon took a new turn.
Beginning her collegiate softball career in 2009, Cobb shined in the circle as she hurled a perfect game against Wagner College in her first start. UCSB softball appeared to have found its newest leading light that would change the face of its program.
Head coach Brie Galicinao praised Cobb as a player who always had grit, continuously proving her "IT" factor whenever the team needed. Though the perfect game was her absolute first career start at UCSB, Cobb proved that she was working with far more than beginner's luck. Throughout her career, her success continued to grow as she earned Big West Co-Freshman Pitcher of the Year, All Big West accolades, and even stamped her name into the UCSB record books for single season wins, all-time pitcher's victories, shutouts and strikeouts.
"She was always ready to go in no matter what," Galicinao said. "I knew that she always wanted the ball and was ready to compete."
With an array of accomplishments under her belt, Cobb was more than eager to get back onto field and end her final season with a bang.
Moving forward into the 2011-12 season, the softball program had planned to achieve its largest aspiration in program history: becoming Big West champions. The team revamped their focus and emphasized the significance of physical and mental preparation, which defined a championship team.
"You set the goal to win conference every year, but there was something about this specific team, this dynamic of girls that we really felt and knew that it would happen," Cobb elaborated.
As Cobb's senior season rolled around in the fall of 2011, the pitcher immediately began facing obstacles that flagged attention. Cobb and her coaching staff initially attributed the performance struggles to mechanical pitching issues or mental preparation.
"Once I had tingling in my fingers and I couldn't feel what I was doing wrong, I knew that no feeling probably meant something pretty serious," Cobb explained.
Quite serious it was. The TOS diagnosis, at last, solved the mystery. Immediately, the senior standout inquired not if, but when, she would be able to return to the circle.
"Can I pitch again? Can I pitch for this team? UCSB softball is my main priority," Cobb asked.
Visiting multiple doctors, Cobb was relentless in her quest to find a way to compete during her senior season, but her hopes were continuously shut down. A career-ending injury, the potentially fatal diagnosis, left no option for Cobb but to put down the ball once and for all. Undergoing numerous MRIs and nerve conductions, Cobb's sole alternative was to undergo surgery (which even her physician was unwilling to perform due to its magnitude of health risk).
Her last struggles in the circle would mark her final days as a collegiate pitcher, but spurred the emergence of character and perseverance that followed.
Once the holder of a spotlighted position with control of the game in every pitch, Cobb is now unable to throw a ball without pain. Her new – far less physical – role as a guide for her younger teammates and spiritual leader undoubtedly took Cobb, her teammates, and coaching staff by surprise. Seeing the game through an entirely new lens, the senior explains that this role has led her to discover a form of leadership that she has never felt before. Cobb has shown maturity and courage in the way that she has grown to accept that fate that has been placed upon her.
"I can't imagine how hard it is for her to sit by and watch for her last year," Galicinao said about Cobb's new perspective. "Having a career-ending injury has been a process, but throughout the whole time, however she's felt about her injury, she's been putting the team first all year long."
To the outside world, Cobb's Thoracic Outlet Syndrome may have been one of the worst setbacks a pitcher could have. Instead, she chose to view her diagnosis in a more optimistic light. She explains that in actuality she has learned more this year than ever before. She recalls her experiences at UCSB and explains that her adversity has taught her never to take anything for granted - not only in softball - but also in everyday life.
"As small as softball may be in the wide scheme of things, this injury has been life-changing," Cobb declared.
Galicinao emphasized Cobb's significance to the program, "hopefully she knows how much we need her and how much the team values what she's doing. She may not be in the circle, ball in hand, but she's there; with the same mission, the same goals, continuously making contributions. She matters."
By remaining a vital aspect to the team, Cobb has inspired her teammates to play every game like it could be their last. From a freshman phenomenon to a senior leader, Krista Cobb has proven that character growth, strength, and perseverance do not simply fall into our laps. She demonstrates the true embodiment of living to learn through her struggles. She continues to be grateful for every day that she has spent with UCSB softball.
"Now more than ever, she is here for Gaucho softball," Galicinao said.