Team unites over ending of career

Michael Johrendt

[/media-credit] Clare Robbe and her teammates pose for a photo after a game this past season. Robbe accrued a 23-15 pitching record across three years of her career, pitching to a 2.98 ERA and 139 strikeouts while only walking 43 batters overall for UWO.

Ever since she was in third grade, Clare Robbe knew what she wanted to play. Softball was her lifeline, a sport that had her attention since early on.

Never did she think the one thing that was constant throughout the majority of her life would be taken from her so quickly.

“Without knowing, I had already pitched the last game as a college athlete,” Robbe said.

To experience a career-ending injury is nothing Robbe had ever believed would happen to her. Although she was told she would never be able to play softball again, Robbe still has a positive outlook on everything.

“Over this past year and seeing how bad it had gotten, I did expect the doctors to tell me bad news,” Robbe said. “Until they actually tell you that you can’t play anymore and you don’t have an option, that’s when it hits you. You can expect something to come out of someone’s mouth, but until it does, it hits you like a truck. Being told I can’t play my final season as a college athlete is definitely hard to accept; looking long term, it will be worth it in the end.”

An early senior season

Flashing through Robbe’s career, she has become one of the focal members of the team. Having been a team captain for her last two years of school has afforded her a sense of leadership throughout her career.

“Over the years, I feel as though my roles haven’t changed that much,” Robbe said. “I’ve always considered myself as a leader. I do believe my leadership skills have just improved, and I have learned more skills in order to enhance my ability to be a good teammate and leader on and off the field.”

Her leadership role has to change now, shifting to solely a sideline and verbal position in her senior campaign.

Health issues dating back to her junior year of high school led to the final decision to end her athletic career.

Dating back to high school, Robbe has undergone shoulder therapy, including dry needling, and has had many doctor visits. Robbe said even with the multitude of visits and treatments conducted, there was no diagnosis at the time.

“As time progressed and no diagnosis was really given, I developed tingling and numbness down my arms whenever they were elevated,” Robbe said. “That tingling and numbness has progressively gotten worse over the past year where it came that I couldn’t raise my hand or talk on the phone without having to use my other arm to help support it. When I went to the doctor, it showed I have very little blood flow when my arms are elevated past 90 degrees because muscles, nerves and an artery are being pinched
between my first ribs.”

After many cycles of treatments and visits, a diagnosis was finally announced: thoracic outlet syndrome. If this condition would have been known early on, Robbe believes things could have been different.

“If I had been diagnosed at the beginning of it all, I most likely would have been able to do therapy in order to prevent the seriousness it is at now,” Robbe said. “I think that is the hardest part … that it could have been prevented. However, there is really nothing else I could have done, I tried to figure out what was wrong, I just couldn’t get the answers I needed.”

Senior Erika Berry said the lifelong bond she and Robbe have established since they began playing softball is strong enough to weather this storm.

“Clare and I have been playing softball together since we were 10 years old and we always said, ‘we’re going to start together and end together,’” Berry said. “It just makes it hard when there’s nothing I can do or anyone can really do to make it better.”

Overcoming adversity

When she found out about her diagnosis, it was hard for Robbe to fully grasp what had been taken away from her. Over 12 years ago, Robbe picked up a big part of her life for the first time, and now that is something she cannot fully participate in anymore.

Sophomore Natalie Dillon, who is going into her second year on the team playing with Robbe, said the team was able to reassure why they still wanted her to be an integral member.

“We all just reminded her we voted her as captain for a reason,” Dillon said. “Just because she wasn’t allowed to play didn’t mean she wouldn’t be an important part of the team.”

The team, when finding out about her injury, did what a family does and made sure she felt comforted in time of need. Robbe said her spot on the team was always a given, even with the injury.

“My worry after the news was that they wouldn’t want me still to be there with them seeing as though I felt like I would just be an extra expense for the team,” Robbe said. “However, they didn’t feel that way at all. They told me how much I can still help the team and that I’ve never just been a physical player but also a mental guide as well. I truly don’t think any other team would have done as awesome of a job supporting me through this hard part of my life than the team I have.”

Going into her senior year, Robbe’s role on the team is just as important as one of the players, except it does not require being on the field. Just as she would have been helping when playing, Robbe’s outlook on the game is a valuable tool that the team can use.

“I want to be a mentor that they feel like they can come to me when seeking advice, on and off the field as well as someone they can raise their concerns to in order to help get a job done,” Robbe said. “I’m going to be their No. 1 fan. I also think my situation can help them with their mental approach in order to have a firsthand reference as to don’t take your playing time for granted.”

Regardless of the season’s outcome, Robbe sees her experience as a teaching tool for everyone on the team.

“My situation hopefully gives them a deeper purpose to do everything to their best ability because they don’t know when that opportunity will be taken away from them,” Robbe said. “As we pass through our fence to go onto our field, there is a sign that says ‘leave your best on the field’ and just because I can’t do that physically, it still applies to me mentally.”

Robbe’s roots

For Robbe, soccer, not softball, was the first sport that drew her into the realm of athletics. As she quickly outgrew that sport, she became ingrained in baseball.

Robbe is from Hartford, Wisconsin, a city in Washington County. Her childhood included playing soccer and baseball, but baseball was the first true turning point for her, even though it did not give her the best look into what softball would mean for her.

“My first time playing baseball I was in the third grade and was the only girl on the team,” Robbe said. “I beat out all the boys and they wanted me to be their pitcher. I got self-conscious playing with only boys, so I quit after the second practice. It was after this time that I was introduced to softball.”

Since that moment, Robbe and softball have been fatefully intertwined.

When she was 10, she tried out for a softball team. Even without knowing how to bunt, Robbe made the team and actually met one of her current teammates and good friends, fellow senior Erika Berry.

While a member of traveling softball teams, Robbe gained an appreciation for the game of softball and what it had done for her. When trying out at the age of 12 for the Wisconsin Bandits, a select traveling team, Robbe recounted a mishap that could have easily derailed her playing career if not for her supporting cast.

“During the hitting part of the tryout, they had us hitting off of a machine; I had never done that before,” Robbe said. “I did not hit a single ball off the machine. I was so embarrassed that I cried to my parents the whole way to the second part of the tryout to just take me home. They wouldn’t let me quit like I did with baseball, so I thankfully went to the other half of the tryout, which helped me make the team.”

Robbe’s parents have been by her side throughout her whole career, including through all the travel obligations that made Robbe successful. She believes their dedication early on set her up to be as good of a player and person she is today.

“I played for the Bandits, which was about 35 minutes from my home,” Robbe said. “I did pitching lessons about four times a week year-round along with practice on Sundays. That meant my parents driving over an hour six times a week just to sit and watch me hit or be my catcher. A lot of parents wouldn’t do what mine did for me and I’m forever grateful.”

She attended Hartford Union High School and earned four varsity letters for softball across her career. Robbe also earned the role of team captain while playing for the Hartford Orioles.

When determining where to continue her playing career at the collegiate level, familiarity with the school and early impressions factored highly into her decision of choosing UWO.

“My sister also went to Oshkosh, so I had the opportunity to visit her a lot before committing to see the campus and hear her side of things,” Robbe said. “Meeting with [Head] Coach [Scott] Beyer and [Assistant] Coach [Lynn] Anderson helped me seal the deal. Honestly, they instill such a family atmosphere for us on and off the field.
Family is very important to me, and them having the same morals and views on things was great for me to see.”

Becoming a Titan

For Robbe, her decision to become a Titan was tied to the up-front nature of the coaching staff’s approach to selling her on the team and its components, and a certain non-athletic necessity.

“I really liked that they took things into their own hands,” Robbe said. “They led my tour [and] introduced me to [my] teammates. They really opened their arms to me as to give me a better understanding of how things would be. They were honest, genuine and didn’t sugarcoat anything. Along with their personalities, they showed me the complex and facilities that were awesome. Also, getting food during the tour helped keep me happy.”

Across Robbe’s underclassman career, there were moments that shaped her career and put her in a place to succeed.

“Opening year was definitely my eye-opening year,” Robbe said. “I met so many awesome people and have had the time of my life since being at Oshkosh. Both my freshman and sophomore year, we had really awesome upperclassmen to help guide us through any questions we may have or insecurities. By seeing their roles on the team, [it] really helped me to paint a picture of how I want everyone on the team to look up to me as a teammate.”

Moments for Robbe on the diamond have all turned to memories now as her playing career has abruptly ended. Looking back on it, she said there were opportunities that she wishes she could have taken advantage of.

“I wish I could just play all positions, honestly,” Robbe said. “I wish I could have been an outfielder too; however, I’m not fast enough and can’t judge a fly ball to save my life. Last year, coach put me into outfield during a scrimmage for practice. I was camped out under a ball and I missed it and it hit me in the face. Once you get the news that I’ve gotten, you realize you took a lot of moments for granted and wish you would have taken advantage of a lot of things when you had the time.”