WESTFIELD, Mass. – Westfield State University junior Madey Shea is still enjoying field hockey at a collegiate level, despite undergoing an extensive hand surgery that could have put her athletic career in jeopardy.
Just after her senior year at West Bridgewater High School, Shea had surgery on her left hand to give herself the best chance to play field hockey again. But the surgery was only the end of what seemed to be a question that had no answer.
"In middle school, I started getting really bad pain in my pinky," Shea said, "but nothing came up on x-ray's, no break, and I was like okay I'll just suck it up. But then it got worse. My finger looked almost like someone crunched it…I couldn't straighten it and it got tighter and tighter."
After six years of questions, Madey's doctors came to the conclusion that she had a condition called Camptodactyly.
For those who may not be familiar with the term, Camptodactyly (Cam-toe-dack-till-ee) is a medical condition that causes one or more fingers to be bent, or as Shea put it "crunched", permanently. The condition always affects the pinky finger, but in serious cases could affect the rest of the fingers as well.
Luckily mine was just the pinky," said Shea as she exhaled.
After years of rehabilitation, the only other option was surgery.
"He told me it's rolling the dice," she said when asked about the odds of her surgery being successful, "Either I'll be fine, no pain, perfect…the other option is I come out and I could never bend my pinky, it would be straight and I couldn't make a fist which obviously is concerning for field hockey."
"I remember her saying 'there's a fifty/fifty chance of me being able to hold my stick after this surgery'," said Westfield State field hockey coach Jessica Bergen, "and I said…well let's hope for the positive fifty."
After electing to have it, Shea spent four months in rehabilitation and physical therapy, and her pinky fully healed allowing her to fully grip a field hockey stick again.
When looking back on how she got through therapy, she had a few people to thank.
"My coach and my mom were probably my biggest [mentors]. My coach was always with me along the way and I had her since I was eleven, so she helped me grow and learn…she helped me through a lot of it. And my mom was a super advocate for it and she believed in me."
The coach Madey describes is one she had growing up, but Coach Bergen also had some words regarding Shea's grit and determination.
"She's the hardest worker on the team," exclaimed Bergen, "If you ask her, 'Madey can you just go run through that wall for me?' [She would say], 'okay coach, how fast do you want me to do it?'…you know, she's just that type of kid."
Eventually, Shea would step on the field against Springfield College on September 3, 2017 for her first collegiate game.
"It was kind of like nothing really changed, "said Shea, "It was nice because when I was younger I never was able to fully hold my stick, but coming back felt good."
Since then, Shea has appeared in 17 total games for the Owls, including seven this season, displaying leadership, determination, and downright guts in her performances. She has still faced some other nagging injuries this season, sidelining her for a bit more but that won't let her stop working toward playing with her teammates.
The Owls field hockey team has posted a 4-6 record in the Little East Conference so far this season, but has two key conference matchups remaining against Plymouth State and Fitchburg State.
While this year's team tries to chase down a conference championship, the field hockey program will be getting lots of recognition tomorrow night at the Westfield State Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The 1981 Final-Four field hockey team will be honored as a Team of Distinction and alumna Megan (Wolski) Loftus '08 will be a Hall-of-Fame inductee.
The Owls take the field Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. against LEC opponent Plymouth State University as part of homecoming weekend and senior night.
Whatever the circumstances, Shea and the Owls are up to the task, with her being one step closer to joining her teammates on the field once again.