Not all athletes are created equal. Athletes range from short to tall, muscular to lean, fast to slow. The one thing that separates junior Kelli Jo Deardorff (Bedford, MA) of the Merrimack softball team apart from other athletes is that she is equipped with one working lung.
In 2011, Deardorff did not let her one lung hold her back. She strung together a very successful sophomore season with the Warriors, breaking the single-season strikeout record at Merrimack last spring with 159. She appeared in 42 contests with a 23-16 mark and a 2.27 ERA while accruing 228.2 innings pitched. A product of Shawsheen Valley Technical High School, Deardorff tossed 25 complete games with seven shutouts along the way. Her efforts were recognized as she was tabbed the Northeast-10 Conference Pitcher of the Year while also earning a spot on the All-Conference first team. Deardorff is also a finalist for Merrimack's Female Athlete of the Year award in 2011.
At birth, Deardorff had a collapsed lung and developed double pneumonia causing one of her lungs to be left with scar tissue, rendering it unable to use. Due to the fact that her one lung works twice as hard to compensate for the deficiency of its counterpart, Deardorff now lives with asthma.
Deardorff did not let the fact that she had one lung define who she was. She went about her life as though she had two lungs and when problems arose, she persevered and worked through it.
An athletic fiend, Deardorff always enjoyed playing sports despite her medical condition. Doctors advised her against enduring the physical demands of sports. They worried that sports might cause a negative effect on her health. That did not stop Deardorff from playing though. "I wouldn't care if I had no arms or no legs, I would still play sports no matter what it took," said the native of Bedford, Mass.
"The toughest part about living with one lung is explaining it to people," offered Deardorff. "I don't want people to think that it's an excuse or a weakness."
Instead of letting her condition limit her athletic ability, Deardorff utilized it as fuel. She is motivated to excel on the athletic fields to prove not only to herself but to others that she is just as good as they are, if not better. "I still participate in sprints and running with my teammates. I try to be the fastest one out there. I am just cautious with the condition but I try to give more than 100% everytime," she commented.
In the weeks and months prior to the start of softball season, the Warriors run in the wintry weather of New England to prepare for preseason. The cold temperatures make it difficult for the criminology major to breathe but she admits that "it makes me want to do it that much more, knowing that there are difficulties associated with it."
On the field, Deardoff puts forth her best effort and says that her motto is "I do what I'm told and to the best of my ability."
In the pitcher's circle, Deardorff doesn't let her condition cross her mind and her main focus is on winning the game and striking out the batter at the plate.
Unable to Catch Her Breath, Deardorff Chased in Fifth
On April 26, 2011, Deardorff called a timeout in the middle of the fifth inning in the first game of the Warriors' doubleheader against Bentley at home. She walked off the field to the dugout where she braced herself on the fence and struggled to catch her breath. As her asthma attack worsened, her nebulizer was utilized and she was taken to a local hospital by ambulance.
The Falcons went on to steal game one of the doubleheader from the Warriors by a score of 3-2. Merrimack avenged the loss in the nightcap with a 9-1 victory. The entire team was extremely concerned with the status of their fallen comrade once the final out had been recorded.
"I was trying to hide the fact that I was having trouble breathing. I just wanted to get out of the inning so I could sit down and catch my breath," recalled Deardoff. "I had no energy and I was trying to push through it. I decided to come off the field when I realized that I couldn't see the catcher who was just 46 feet away."
"I felt like I let my team down that day and I felt bad because it was Senior Day but my teammates picked me up and restored my confidence. I think that we came closer together as a team that day which was good because playoffs were coming up," said Deardorff.
When being recruited Deardorff did not notify anyone of her condition. "Coach Schwager didn't find out until halfway through my freshman year," she recalled. "I remember my mom said to Coach 'She's not bad for someone with one lung' which caused Coach to worry a bit."
The Merrimack softball team made its 13th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2011 as it reached the NCAA East Super Regional where a pair of losses to C.W. Post halted the campaign. The Warriors posted a 31-23 overall record while owning a 20-10 mark in the Northeast-10. Merrimack, which garnered a No. 25 national ranking in the final NFCA Poll, finished the regular season in second place and fell in the finals of the Northeast-10 Conference Tournament.
With two more seasons ahead of her, Deardorff is focused on establishing herself as one of the top pitchers in program history as well as helping the team succeed.