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Season lost to injury still a positive for Roark

When Demopolis’s Lauren Roark went to the College World Series with her teammates on the University of Alabama’s varsity softball squad, she knew she’d have to once again deal with the frustration of watching everyone else play while she continued to sit the season out with a shoulder injury.

But there was something else waiting in Oklahoma City she didn’t know she’d have to deal with: fans.

“You step off the bus and you’re like ‘Wow,'” she says with a laugh. “There are the kids waiting for you to sign an autograph…it only takes you .2 seconds but they still walk off with the biggest grin. No matter who you are, if you’re wearing that uniform, they want you to sign.”

There was a time earlier in the year when Roark wondered, even if the Tide did make the College World Series, whether she’d be there wearing that uniform or not. After a stellar Demopolis High career highlighted by numerous honors and a state championship in 2003, Roark was enjoying her first year in Tuscaloosa when she dove for a ball in an October practice session and fell awkwardly. Roark suffered not only a dislocated shoulder, but three torn ligaments and a torn labrum.

Several months after the orthoscopic surgery necessary to repair the damage, Roark is still recovering. She was forced to accept a medical redshirt for the duration of the 2005 season.

“The coaches were telling all of us that the team was looking good, that we had a squad they knew it make it far,” she said. “I was really excited about that, so it’s been pretty frustrating.”

The frustration only got worse as the season progressed. Not only did the Tide did, in fact, have a team capable of challenging for the national title, but as Roark was able to toss aside her sling she felt more and more capable of contributing on the field…even if her coaches and doctors agreed there was no way she could.

“[The sling] is a sign to everyone else. It’s like, ‘What can I do with this thing on?'” she says. “Then it got even harder. I felt like I could get back in there.”

That frustration was its worst during Alabama’s first game at the Series, in which they faced Texas’s Cat Osterman, a once-and-future Olympian and one of the world’s greatest softball pitchers.

“I was wishing I could just get one shot at her, to just try to make contact,” she said. “Nobody touched her.”

Roark acknowledges, though, that things could still have been much worse for her this season. For starters, she might not have been on the bench for the match-up against Osterman at all. Roark worried at first that her redshirt might separate her from the rest of the team, but the Tide coaches chose to make the only difference between Roark and her teammates the fact that Roark wouldn’t play.

“I travel with the team, I get all the same meal money and privileges, I got the same travel bag at the World Series with all the neat free stuff in it,” Roark says. “It’s the coach’s decision…it’s very nice of them.”

It makes sense when considering that Roark says the experience of being a part of the team–especially during an experience as intense as the World Series–will make a big difference as she prepares for next season.

“It’s going to help me out next year,” she says of traveling to Oklahoma City and joining her teammates in the dugout as they sweated out three Series games. “Now that I know what the coaches expect and I’ve been able to watch these All-Star people and see how they handle themselves, I’ll be ready…It was awesome.”

Not that she expects coming back from such a long layoff to be easy. Roark received the doctor’s OK this week to begin fielding balls, but cannot swing a bat until August 1.

“I’m not quite 100 percent, but I’m going to keep doing therapy and get back there,” she says. “I want to say it shouldn’t be that tough, but in my mind I feel a little behind. This year’s freshman recruits are supposed to be a studly group, so I’ll just go in with them and stay with them and get better.”

If there’s any single biggest positive to her World Series trip, Roark says, it’s the inspiration that comes from experiencing the intensity of an event like the Series firsthand… and finding the determination to get back there in spite of the difficulties of this season.

“I think there’s a good chance [the Tide will be back this season]. One thing I’ve learned is that you have to keep a positive attitude,” she says. “Even though I was a participant and I had all the same privileges, to go back with nothing holding me back… It’d be awesome.”