March 14, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE - Kaitlin Inglesby has been known as "Triple Threat" for 15 of her 20 years on Earth.
"J.T.!" Inglesby shrieked recently, shaking her head with a shy grin while glaring over to Huskies assistant coach J.T. D'Amico.
He's the one who planted the question with me moments earlier, before Inglesby had entered the softball team room.
"Well," Washington's gregarious pitching-hitting-living wonder began in a flat, matter-of-fact tone, "I was in the first grade and I had glasses, braces -- and hearing aids. And my friends always joked, `Oh, `Triple Threat' is coming! She's got one thing after another.'
"Yeah, I mean ... The thing I was most ashamed about were the glasses, not the hearing aids. They were the big ones. The BIG ones. Not too thick. but just, Here comes Kaitlin!"
Her teammates love the old nickname.
"Oh, man," says junior catcher Shawna Wright, "we're never going to let that alone."
Inglesby just shrugs.
"Yeah, that's Triple Threat," she says. "She's still with me."
And that's what makes Kaitlin Inglesby so remarkable.
Two years after national player of the year Danielle Lawrie finished annihilating opposing hitters in the most dominant career a UW softballer has ever had, Inglesby is carving her own legacy.
The sophomore phenom is the most uniquely talented and resilient Husky, maybe ever. And not just on the field.
*At 6 feet 1, she is at times unhittable, slinging underhand a neon yellow softball nearly 70 miles per hour at a poor batter that is 43 feet away. With Wright using more hand signals instead of barking guidance from behind the plate, Inglesby led UW into another NCAA tournament last season as a freshman with 25 wins, a 2.38 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 217 2/3 innings.
That was months after getting every major bone is her face, 47 bones in all, shattered by a line drive that was traveling about 60 miles per hour off the bat of teammate Hooch Fagaly in Inglesby's third practice at UW, last August. The ball hit her in the left eye, yet the impact broke the other eye socket and upper jaw bones, as well. She had two nose surgeries. It took six days before she could open her left eye again.
"It was almost like someone took a bat to my face," she said.
It was almost like someone took a bat to my face.
Yet, get this: She was back practicing before Christmas.
"At first I was kind of nervous," she says. "But then I thought, `This is what I do."
She already has five shutouts and a 12-0 record this season for Washington, which is 23-1 and ranked fourth in the nation entering Thursday's games against UC Davis and Iowa in the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif.
*Inglesby is at times unpitchable, too, winning games with home runs or clutch hits. She also plays first base and leads the Huskies with 25 RBIs through 24 games. She is so good hitting and fielding, Huskies coach Heather Tarr can afford to spread pitching among three starters, including Bryana Walker and Kasey Stanchek. It's the deepest staff Tarr has had in eight hugely successful seasons leading her alma mater, though Inglesby is the undeniable ace.
*Inglesby was a world junior champion in racquetball. She was so good at that sport she missed two months of public school each fall growing up in Portland, Ore., to train and compete across the globe.
*She takes daily medication to treat a thyroid condition.
*And she just pulled down a 3.47 grade-point average last quarter - even though she can't hear much of what she is being taught.
Inglesby is 80-percent deaf. She relies on hearing aids and lip reading to not only get by, but to excel.
UW had an enrollment of 42,428 at the start of the Fall 2011 academic quarter. Only 25 had a documented hearing impairment. Inglesby is the only deaf student-athlete among the more than 600 Huskies competing in 19 sports that has registered with UW's Disability Resources for Students office.
Among all her accomplishments in her amazing, young life, that last one is her proudest.
"Yeah, I consider myself a member of the disabled community. I'm not afraid to say that. It's part of who I am," Inglesby told me last week with a wide smile while seated on a couch in that team room, beneath Washington's trophies for winning the 2009 national championship and appearing in 10 Women's College World Series.
"I want to advocate for people who don't have the opportunities that I have, that you can do whatever you want to do if you put yourself and your mind to it."
Michael Richardson is that assistant director for UW's Disability Resources for Students office. Inglesby is the only Huskies student athlete he's had registered in his department in his three years in that role, though colleagues recall a severely hearing-impaired women's water polo player about a half-dozen years ago, prior to that program's elimination.
"The fact she is a high-achieving and nationally recognized athlete in softball, that's a role model right there," Richardson, who himself has severe hearing loss, said by phone Wednesday morning.
Richardson's department provides student volunteer note takers that Inglesby often uses to keep up with her colleagues as professors' lessons roll on - whether Inglesby hears them or not.
When I told Richardson that Kaitlin had a 3.47 last quarter, he replied, "Oh, wow!"
Inglesby doesn't just consider herself an athlete with a disability. She wants to champion the cause. She wants to be the dark-haired, long pony-tailed poster woman for athletes with disabilities everywhere.
"I know I want to work with disabled athletes, like myself. I want to mentor them and I want to travel with them, I want to make sure they have everything with them to succeed," she says. "I want to hone in on one or two athletes and devote all of my time.
"Or, I could see myself being a lawyer for disability rights. But I definitely want to work with people like me, who don't think they have what it takes to succeed, to show them that I've done it and you can do it."
Like Richardson, veterans of UW's athletic and academic support staffs marvel at this, well ... marvel.
I consider myself a member of the disabled community. I'm not afraid to say that.
"She is truly amazing! I am in awe of her on a daily basis," exclaimed Pam Robenolt, assistant director of learning resources for Huskies athletics.
"There are very few people I know that work harder than she does. She approaches all of her work like a champion. She is also very competitive and is always trying to out-do herself. She has broken multiple bones and has faced other obstacles but she doesn't let anything get in her way. She just powers through what needs to be done. She does it at a high level and with the best attitude and wonderful sense of humor.
"I can't think of a better role model for any teenager."
`AFTER I GOT HEARING AIDS, MY LIFE REALLY STARTED'
Funny thing about that original "Triple Threat" tag: She really only needed to be "Double Threat."
"This is my dad: He was so adamant about me and my sister having perfectvision that he gave us reading glasses. I didn't even need them," Inglesby said. "So it just goes to show: C'mon, Tom!"
In fact, Inglesby has pilot-like eyesight.
"When one of your senses is down, another picks up," she said. "I would say my vision is, like, amazing. I see everything. Even with lip reading, I see it.
"It's just funny that my dad made me wear these glasses and I didn't even need them."
Perfectionist or not, any parent would as frustrated as Tom Inglesby, a real-estate agent in Portland, Ore., and his wife Beverly, a magazine editor, were when Kaitlin was 3 years old and was jabbering incoherently. They couldn't understand a word their youngest of two daughters was trying to tell them.
Most kids say their first words at one and begin putting short sentences together by 2½ .
"I really didn't start speaking (intelligibly) until I was 4," Inglesby says, shiny gems glittering back at me from her earlobes, inches below each grayish-white hearing aids.
Her parents sent Kaitlin through months of tests. Six months later, at age 3½, a second MRI plus an audiogram found systemic hearing loss of 80 percent.
"Once I had hearing aids," she says as she snaps her fingers, "I just kind of blossomed.
"As a child, I didn't know how much I was missing. I didn't know all these sounds and all these words, that this is what it should sound like. I'd heard it one way, and as a child I tried to repeat it but I heard it so lightly and so wrong that my parents would say, `What is she saying?'
"After I got hearing aids, my life really started. I learned so much so fast. It's weird, I don't really remember my life before that."
Although Kaitlin's 22-year-old sister Shannon, a senior at Concordia University in Portland, has normal hearing, all four of Inglesby's grandparents had some form of hearing loss. And her mother got hearing aids 10 years ago. Her hearing has gradually declined since.
"I've helped her so much, because getting hearing aids at that age is not easy. It's a complete life change," Kaitlin says of her mom. "Luckily my family has grown up with me and my father and sister have been so supportive. It's so natural to them, because `It's how we've grown up with Kaitlin.' Like, `We know we have to be facing her when they talk to her.'"
DESTINED TO BE A DAWG
it almost wasn't softball for Kaitlin. Racquetball came first. And easily.
"Basically the whole months of November and December, I really didn't go to school," she says. "I was training."
And winning -- big. She was the 2003 national junior racquetball player of the year. She competed for the USA Junior Olympic racquetball team and was a five-time member of Team USA. She won 24 national and world junior racquetball titles.
"Racquetball was my life," she said. "When I hit seventh grade I realized I had given up so much of my life for racquetball that I wanted to focus on softball. It was like, `I've had it. I'm done.'"
While at Central Catholic High School in Portland, Inglesby seized upon softball like she has everything else in her life.
She was an Under-16 national softball champion and the 2009 Oregon state player of the year.
Do you sense a pattern of giftedness here?
Though living in the land of Ducks and Beavers, Inglesby had an early link to the Huskies. She played for a Portland select club team, the Northwest Blaze, coached by Wilbur Charters. Charters' daughter Ashley was on her way to becoming a three-time All-American and national champion on UW's 2009 team.
At age 15 Inglesby watched in the early summer of 2007 as the Huskies made the Women's College World Series. She said then to herself then, "OK, Washington, I could see myself there."
Wisconsin, Oregon, Oregon State, and Auburn all wanted her... Kaitlin was a Dawg.
Wisconsin, Oregon, Oregon State, and Auburn all wanted her. But between Charters, her dad, the Huskies competing for and winning national titles, plus the facts UW has acclaimed audiology and speech-language programs that Inglesby wanted to explore, Kaitlin was a Dawg.
Then, when Inglesby was ending her sophomore year of high school , Lawrie steamrolled the NCAA tournament field and the Huskies won the national title. It was part of three trips in four seasons to the Women's College World Series.
"I remember watching Danielle in the 2009 NCAA championship game and saying, `Wow. I want that to be me. National championship game. In the center circle. Everyone around me, celebrating the national championship," Inglesby says.
"I just know that every day I have to get one-percent better. Every day, just work hard and get better, and your time will come.
"I know I have it in me to do it."
`PRETTY COOL' INDEED
Wright had never caught a deaf pitcher before Inglesby arrived last summer.
"We had a team meeting, filling each other's bucket, saying something good about each player on the team. And with Kaitlin, I feel the best thing that helps her and my communication is her eye contact," Wright said Tuesday.
"I know if she is not looking at me she can't hear me. I mean, I feel even hearing people don't have as good of eye contact as she does. I know that when she is looking at my eyes and my mouth, I know that she hears what I am saying.
Wright uses hand motions to get her in-game points across to Inglesby. Chopping hands framing either side of the plate is a between-pitches command to hit her spots better, for instance.
"With other pitchers I can yell from behind the plate, `Hey, hit your spots!' With Kaitlin, I know for a fact she is not going to hear me," Wright said. "So it's more of like hand movements. She knows what I mean with my hands. If I need to talk to her I need to go out (to the circle) and talk to her."
Wright says she doesn't even have to take off her catcher's mask for Inglesby to know what she is telling her.
"As long as she sees my mouth, we're good," Wright said.
That's because of the lip reading at which Inglesby has become adept.
An undated study from England's Cambridge University entitled "Teaching Deaf/Hearing Impaired Students" estimates that most hearing-impaired persons can lip read only 30 percent of spoken words.
That's another norm Inglesby may exceed.
She calls lip reading "huge." It's primarily how she heard me when I was spending 45 minutes with her last week and a half hour more Tuesday.
"It just comes so natural to me," she says.
Speech-language pathologists say a hearing-impaired person that can make out at least some spoken sounds, however faint, early in formative years have a jump-start in being able to speak later. That may explain how fluid and clear Inglesby's speech is.
"I don't necessarily listen to what people say as much as I try to read their lips," she says. "I hear what people say, but I focus on what I see. That is so important to me. I am such a visual person. Seeing what their mouth is doing is almost more important than hearing what they are saying."
Last year, upon enrolling at UW, she began taking formal sign-language classes for the first time - mainly for mom.
"If there is one thing I regret, it is not getting sign language when I was little," she says. "I knew it a little bit, so I could communicate with my mom. But once I was able to talk and communication became so easy with my family, I just kind of threw it out the window.
"Now I realize how easy it is to communicate in sign language."
On the field, she can only hear her first and third basemen and her catcher. Her outfielders may as well be screaming Katy Perry lyrics behind her, for as much as she knows what they are saying.
That makes sitting in huge auditoriums in required courses as a freshman and sophomore difficult.
She calls that her toughest challenge of being a Husky.
I'm not going to fall through the cracks. I won't let myself.
"I would just say daily things in class, missing things in class. You miss one thing and it's on to the next," she says. "Whereas in high school you have a class of 25 and you could just raise your hand and say, `Excuse me, professor, can you please repeat that?' Here it's, that's it, it's on to the next thing.
"I've really had to learn to advocate for myself. When I miss that information, I have to go get it myself. Just advocating, coping. Dealing with this any way I can. We have this amazing support here. Student academic services is just unreal. That have been great ensuring that I have everything I need to succeed.
"I definitely want to make the Dean's list. I want to make my mother proud."
Then she offered a proclamation I take as fact.
"I'm not going to fall through the cracks," she said. "I won't let myself."
'TRY TO BEAT ME AGAIN'
Huskies coaches had been calling all her pitches in games over her first 52 appearances as a Husky - until two weeks ago when Washington played Sacramento State in Stockton, Calif.
"Last year I fought it - `I want to call my own game. C'mon! We've proven it'" she says, slapping the palm of her hand. "This year I told them, I don't want to. I want to earn it. I want you to come to me and say, `You earned it, Kaitlin'"
That happened March 2.
So how'd that first time go against Sac State two Fridays ago?
Inglesby and Wright shut out the Hornets on just two hits and no walks with four strikeouts in a 9-0, five-inning domination.
"It went well," Inglesby deadpanned. "I mean, it definitely puts the pressure on me, because I have to do my scouting now. I am constantly talking to Shawna between innings, going over the scouting report, `OK, who's coming up? What can she hit? What can she not hit?' Just being a more responsible pitcher. She is not going to beat me with my best pitch.
"If you are going to beat me, it's going to be with my best pitch. And try to beat me again."
Judging by all Kaitlin Inglesby has bulled through to succeed so far in life, I don't like anyone's odds of beating her again.
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.