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Despite Medical Condition, Clemson's Millie Thompson Thrives

Millie Thompson photo by clemson.jpg
(Photo courtesy of Clemson Athletics)

When Millie Thompson’s hand turned bright blue and went numb during practice, she thought her softball career was over. At the time, her athletic trainers didn’t want to tell her, but they feared the worst and worried she wouldn’t be returning for her sophomore season.

After emergency room visits and having no function in her hand for about three weeks, doctors were able to piece together that she had compartment syndrome. This condition restricts blood flow to certain areas of the body, potentially damaging muscles and nerves.

“It was a flash before my eyes,” Thompson said. “It was a lot worse at the beginning than they thought it was going to be. At the moment, it was really scary and hard to put my mind around because this is supposed to be the best time of my life. I was worried that it was going to be taken from me.”

Due to the severity of the syndrome, Thompson couldn’t avoid surgery, and the aftermath was even more heartbreaking for her.

“I remember when I saw my arm for the first time,” Thompson said. “I have a big scar, about six inches on my forearm. It’s been really tough to look at. That was probably one of the toughest days of my life.”

Time would only tell when Thompson would enter the circle again, but she made it a priority to make it back for the start of Clemson’s season this year.

But being out from December to the beginning of February put Thompson at a disadvantage. She found that she had to work harder than ever to get even remotely close to where she was before her condition.

“(Recovery) did not go as smoothly as it was supposed to,” Thompson said. “Being on the sidelines and missing softball gave me this fire that I wanted to get back at it and be back for the season.”

That fresh perspective and new outlook on the game carried Thompson through the good and bad days of recovery. Now, she is back in the circle for the Tigers with what she calls the best pitching staff in the country.

“We work together, we pitch together and there is a good understanding that every single one of us is important in a different way,” Thompson said. “That is what makes our staff so special. We acknowledge each other and each other’s successes. It is a really good support system.”

Thompson has made tremendous improvements from her freshman year, considering she just went through a life-threatening condition. Her biggest goal throughout her career has been to finish a full seven innings, something that she has struggled with in the past.

With an ERA of 1.69, a solo no-hitter and 99 strikeouts, she has been able to complete some important games for Clemson.

“(Not finishing games) has made things harder on me mentally,” Thompson said. “I have finished some pretty big games this year and I have thrown a lot more innings. Those are things I am proud of, just finishing. (I've taken) small steps and strides, and showed myself that I can compete with bigger teams.”

Through all of the mental strains, Thompson has found ways to enjoy the game, easing the anxiety and stress that can come with being a student-athlete. Her condition showed her that this game will not be available to her forever, so she might as well enjoy the ride she is on.

“Softball is so serious and it can take a toll on you,” Thompson said. “I think having fun on the mound and in the dugout brings people together. It shows you what you’re playing for. It’s not about the wins and losses, it’s about being with people and having a special time.”

As Clemson looks ahead to hosting an NCAA regional for the first time in program history, Thompson believes the team just needs to continue doing what it does best. The Tigers were selected as the No.10 national seed and will face off against UNC-Wilmington first.

“I don’t think anything is different,” Thompson said. “We know we need to win games. This big thing over our head is hosting a regional and not seeing the game any differently. Just play the game we know, and the game we know is a pretty good game.”

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