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Brittany Weil at the softball diamond.
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BRITTANY WEIL The 2009 alumna and record-setting pitcher fought her way back from serious injury.

Brittany Weil knows as well as anyone that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The Hawkeye softball pitcher was hit in the head by a line drive during practice her sophomore year at Iowa, an injury that her doctor says could have killed her had the ball hit just one centimeter lower.

Despite the gravity of the injury, which required her to relearn basic language skills, Weil returned to the team. After missing 24 games in recovery, she joined the lineup and recorded double-digit strikeouts in each of her first three starts. By the time she graduated in May 2009, she had claimed school records for career strikeouts (1,084), single-season strikeouts (340), career games pitched (183), and career complete games (110).

“My dad’s competitive, and that has rubbed off on me. I expect nothing but the best, and I knew I needed to get back out there and play,” says Weil, who this season became the eighth player in Big Ten Conference history to reach 1,000 strikeouts. “I wasn’t scared to return to the field until the first ball came back at me. I try to put it out of my mind, but I still get nervous.”

The Garden Grove, Calif., native has been playing softball since age 8. In high school, where she was coached by her father, Weil led her team to four straight league championships and two state championships. She was named Orange County Player of the Year as a junior and L.A. Times Pitcher of the Year as a senior.

Though colleges across the country recruited her, Weil chose Iowa.

“When I took a recruiting trip to see what the Midwest was like, I fell in love with the Iowa campus and the people,” says Weil, who selected the Hawkeyes over the University of Arizona, Ohio State University, and the University of Washington. “Being so far away was a challenge, but if I had stayed closer to home, I would not have had the same experience.”

Weil likely won’t forget that fateful pitch anytime soon.

“It was a normal practice. I saw the ball coming back at me and I couldn’t do anything,” she recalls. “The next thing I knew, I was on the ground. I thought I was okay and I tried to stand up—that probably wasn’t a good idea—but I couldn’t respond in full sentences.”

Assisted by her mother, who traveled to Iowa to stay with her during her recovery, Weil started speech therapy. She says she never considered not returning to the pitching mound.

“My teammates were really supportive of me, and we had a good team—they made it easy for me to want to come back,” she says. “Plus, our freshman pitcher wasn’t getting any guidance from me, and I really wanted to be there to help her.”

If anything, Weil says, the injury imparted important life lessons.

“It really put things in perspective,” she says. “If I’m not having a good day on the field, I realize that softball is just a game. I don’t take things for granted. You never know when you’ll see someone again. You never know when your last day will be.”

For now, Weil is an Akron Racer—she was drafted by the Ohio national fast-pitch softball team in May—but future plans include teaching certification, coaching, and completing a master’s degree. Earning a BA in communication studies from the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences made Weil the first person on both sides of her family to graduate from a four-year college.

“Doing that, with the athletic experience and being away from home, is my biggest accomplishment,” she says.

When it comes to softball, Weil doesn’t hesitate to pinpoint the keys to her success.

“Determination, a little pushing from the coaches to keep me focused, and my teammates,” she says. “All the accomplishments and records wouldn’t have come if my teammates had not been behind me.”

Story by Sara Epstein Moninger; photo by Tim Schoon

July 20, 2009