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Fresno State's Makenna Russell Chooses Health Over Softball

(Photo by Dalton Browne/Fresno State Athletics)

The first time Makenna Russell put on her uniform for Fresno State she never imagined it would be her last. After battling her sixth concussion, she made the decision to medically retire from the game she has been around since she was 8 years old.

During a pre-season scrimmage in January, Russell was catching for sophomore pitcher Dariana Orme when her life changed forever. After she got a foul ball to the face mask, Russell instantly knew her situation wasn't good.

“I remember in that moment that I was pretty scared,” Russell said. “I remember thinking that was the pitch that would give me a concussion and that could possibly take me out because I've had so many (concussions). I took a few seconds to myself really quick to regroup. I was trying not to cry behind my mask because inside I knew that definitely gave me a concussion.”

After heading back to the dugout, she began to crumble and was urged by her trainers to see the team doctor the following Monday. When it was confirmed to be a concussion, Russell went straight into recovery mode. In the past, she had bounced back in the time span of two or three weeks. This time, though, it was looking like months were going to pass until she felt 100% again.

“You can't look at your phone, you can't read books, you can't do your homework, you can’t watch TV, you just sit there and try to recover,” Russell said. “So for me, I just had really bad headaches. It was hard to sleep. I couldn't get up and make myself food. When (the side effects) kept dragging out for two months, I knew this one was pretty bad. This one was going to mean something.”

The decision to step away from the game was starting to linger in the back of her head, but Russell never wanted to come to terms with that idea and her teammates weren’t ready to accept that either.

“No one really wanted to have the conversation yet,” Russell said. “It was too early, I had just gotten hit, but as an athlete that is all you can think about. Am I going to get back out on the field or am I going to have to retire? I didn't really know what it looked like for me. I had great teammates throughout all of this, they helped me and they supported me.”

In March, her parents made a road trip to Fresno to discuss the future of their daughter. The forthcoming trauma of concussions is so unknown and one more blow to her head could be detrimental to her health.

“It was kind of a decision taken out of my hands,” Russell said. “I couldn't make that decision for myself. It took a few hours and we talked about how we should celebrate my career versus talking about how it ended. Celebrate that I got this far and made it to my dream. This is something that I have always wanted.”

Leaving her dream was tough for Russell and may be hard for the time being. After her older sister went through the recruiting process at Fresno State, Russell fell in love with the team and dedicated herself to getting to that level of the game.

“Everything I did was for Fresno State,” Russell said. “There wasn't another college that I seriously looked into. When I realized I wasn't going to play my first game and I wasn't going to be able to go through four years of college as a softball player, it was really hard.”

Russell says she owes everything to the game of softball. It is more than just a game for her. The people she has met along the way hold big pieces of her heart. From coaches to teammates and her family’s support, her softball memories will never be forgotten.

“My next focus right now is definitely school, but my second biggest focus is still going to be softball,” Russell said. “I want to stay by (the team’s) side and keep doing anything I can to help. They are just incredible. It is never easy to step away from the game even if you can’t play. You can take the girl out of the game, but you can't take the game out of the girl.”

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