Blade runner: Despite amputation, softball player perseveres with perspective in tow

(Video by Zach Keenan/Cronkite Sports)

PHOENIX – On Sunday, it will be one year since Emily White found herself standing next to an overturned vehicle near Flagstaff, trying to help a friend who was pinned underneath. She was oblivious to her own injuries and that her life was about to experience a dramatic shift.

“We weren’t doing anything crazy,” said White, who was driving. “We just hit a bump in the road.”

That bump during a camping trip with friends triggered the car to flip several times. The Paradise Valley Community College softball player was thrown from the vehicle, which eventually landed on her left leg.

And changed her life.

At a Flagstaff hospital, White learned she had an open compound fracture in her left leg.

“I broke 19 bones,” she said. “I snapped almost all of my arteries. Ligaments gone. I was missing 2 inches of bone.”

As she waited for word about her treatment, she sensed something wasn’t right.

“They told my parents what was wrong, but they wouldn’t tell me.”

It was challenging during those two weeks. Due to restrictions from the pandemic, she was unable to see anyone while she was in the hospital.

She could see, however, that her leg wasn’t responding well to treatments, and a decision needed to be made. A significant one.

The doctor wanted “to go into my right leg and then my pelvis. But then they said as a female, I would have a hard time having kids in the future.”

Left: Emily White played softball at Centennial High School and then Paradise Valley Community College. She said she still has a passion for the sport. Right: Even after her lower left leg was amputated, White was determined to keep playing. She decided to move from the outfield to the infield. (Photo courtesy of Emily White)

After much research, the former Centennial High School standout came to a conclusion: Amputation below her left knee was a better option.

“I don’t want to ruin the rest of my body just to fix one little part.”

Plus, the decision would give White the opportunity to play softball again – albeit in a challenging way – while using resources from the rest of her body to potentially save the leg was less of a guarantee.

“I wasn’t ready to be done with softball.”

Her love of the game ultimately fueled her decision.

She found glimpses of what life with a blade prosthetic could look like by watching videos of paralympic athletes, and by talking to a nurse whom White didn’t realize had been in a similar situation.

“The way he was walking and everything was completely normal,” she said.

White’s road back to the softball field wouldn’t be. While athletes competing with prosthetics are nothing new, the quick cutting, running and jumping motions needed to play in a softball outfield posed a challenge.

“There were a lot of times at practice where I just ate it,” she said, smiling.

A position change to infielder worked better with her new skill set and kept her on the field.

Through it all, “she has had a smile through everything that has happened,” said Alexis Murray, an assistant coach for Paradise Valley. “She’s just a fun person and hypes everyone up.”

Coach Nick Candrea agreed and said, “There’s no one as positive as she is.”

Her attitude has impressed those around because of the severity of the accident, because of the peril she faced.

White played in 21 of 34 games for Paradise Valley this season and was a leader on and off the field. (File photo by Zach Keenan/Cronkite News)

It was a freak accident. She and her friends were traveling approximately 20 mph when they hit the bump. There was a drop off on the left side which caused the back end of the car to skid out. She was not wearing a seatbelt, according to the police report.

“Either way we were going to flip just because of the way it was pulling us,” she said.

The vehicle rolled three-and-a-half times, ejecting Emily in the process. The vehicle rolled onto her left leg.

One of the reasons she has taken her experience in stride is that she was close to death after the accident. The vehicle’s position on her leg pinched an artery.

“I was supposed to bleed out,” she said, but helped her cause when she stood up to assist her friend, doctors told her.

“I’ve never had another athlete that I can say has gone through what she’s gone through,” Candrea said. “You can’t be any more down than she was.”

Those trying to throw White a pity party are met with her perspective.

“You personally have to live with what happened,” she said. “It could always be worse. I could have died out there. There’s always someone who has it worse.”

While many applaud her perseverance, she credits the people around her.

“I’m fortunate enough to have the resources, the support system and just everything to be able to do this again,” she said.

One support system that helped her through was the softball community. They reached out and provided words of encouragement.

On the field she is not seen as anything other than a ballplayer.

“She does everything the same that everyone else does,” Murray said.

Clearly. She appeared in 21 of 34 games this season, her last for Paradise Valley, and batted .250. She is grateful she was able to play the game she loved again and is pursuing a career in the medical field.

And she is looking forward, remember not what she lost but what she gained.


White said she was inspired to persevere because of the support she received from family and friends. (Photo courtesy of Emily White)

Erik Hansen Air-ick han-sen
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Erik Hansen expects to graduate in spring 2021. He has had internships at KTAR radio in Phoenix.

Zach Keenan Zak kee-nun
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Zach Keenan expects to graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in history. Keenan, who speaks English and Spanish, has covered ASU athletics and has interned in content production at the Cleveland Browns.