Tammy Wilkening just might be the luckiest girl in Enumclaw.
After all, she has found athletic success after not one, but two serious injuries.
Wilkening, a sophomore at Enumclaw High School, suffered a knee injury in second grade and eventually had to quit basketball and soccer. She continued with her No. 1 passion, softball, as well as golf.
But last April, an errant golf ball nearly cost Wilkening her life.
Wilkening was practicing for the 3A state golf tournament at the Riverbend Golf Complex in Kent when a ball hit out of the woods smashed directly into her temple. She had to be revived in the ambulance.
At the hospital, X-rays showed a skull fracture and internal bleeding.
But the Hornets’ starting center fielder was more upset about the end of her freshman fastpitch season.
“The first thing I said while sitting there, bawling my eyes out, was ‘Mom, I can’t play fastpitch now.’ ”
Enumclaw coach Mike Eckhart said he tried to make the reality of the situation easier on Wilkening.
“I sat and talked to her and said that the decision they make doesn’t define you; how you deal with it does,” he said. “If they say you’ll never play ball again, do something else, like track.”
But Wilkening was determined. She played golf in the fall – and began counting the days until softball season.
When spring rolled around, she attended every practice, running sprints and staying far enough away to not get hit by a ball. If that had happened before her skull was healed, she said a coma – or death – was possible.
“It was hard to just sit there,” she said. “There was so much I could have been doing, and I felt like I could play three months later, but it was all in my head. I could never see or feel my injury.”
Wilkening said she cried on April 2 this year, when she was cleared to return to the outfield.
“It’s my life,” she said. “I’m just beyond words that I can play again.”
In her first game back, Wilkening caught a short fly to center and then threw out an Auburn Mountainview runner at home.
“We were like, ‘Right on!’ ” Eckhart said.
She hasn’t let up, either.
Enumclaw compiled a 21-3 record on the way to winning the West Central District championship, and Eckhart said Wilkening has been key in the team’s success. She has yet to be thrown out while on base.
“When she lays down bunts, she’s batting .600,” he said. “And if she makes anyone take two steps to get her, she’s safe.”
Wilkening said she worried that she had been away too long to make much of an impact.
“Taking a year off is a long time,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be good at all, (especially) at batting since I hadn’t hit off many pitchers.”
It took a few games to get over her apprehension, but now she feels right at home with the Hornets, who open the 3A state tournament against Interlake at noon Friday at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey.
“You’ve got to move on and get past things, don’t let it stop you from what you want to do,” she said.
Wilkening, who shot 101 on Tuesday in the opening round of the state tournament and did not advance, said she has not decided whether she will stick with golf. But she is adamant that she wants to play college softball. After all, she has been working at it since she was 5.
“I just protect myself,” she said. “I’m afraid of getting hurt again, but not afraid in the moment. I play hard.”