Oct. 27, 2011
By Bobby Duley
Dana Hughes has a variety of roles with the UConn softball team. As a student assistant coach, she primarily spends most of her time in the bullpen warming up the pitching staff before and during games. She also lifts weights with the team and does whatever she can to add to the squad. There was a time when this contribution appeared to be beyond her reach.
Hughes almost lost any chance of being involved with the UConn softball team in January of her senior year of high school when she was involved in a serious car crash on her way to practice. Hughes was immediately taken to the hospital.
UConn's top recruit spent three weeks in the hospital, including the first two in a medically-induced coma. She had a craniectomy, which was medically necessary to treat a brain injury, as well as a C1-C2 neck fusion. She also suffered from a spleen laceration and a lung contusion.
Unsure if she would survive the accident, Head Coach Karen Mullins said "she's such a competitor and a fighter. She proved them wrong every step of the way."
Hughes was released from the hospital and underwent five weeks of therapy. Despite missing so much school, she was still able to graduate on time. The only thing she had to do was complete her senior project, which was training for a half marathon and raising money to keep softball in the Olympics. Although she could not physically run the marathon, she and some friends were still able to participate and finish the race.
After an incredible recovery, Hughes came to UConn in the fall but was not cleared to play on the team. "I remember sitting in the room. I can't really describe it," said Hughes about learning she would not be able to play. The full scholarship that she had been offered was still given to her, however, and she took a position as a student assistant coach.
"I don't know if I could have come here without the scholarship. I was so happy about that," said Hughes. Still things were not easy for the Pennsylvania native. "Freshman year was the hardest year of my life. I thought about transferring, but it was the best decision of my life to stay. The coaches have been really good about everything."
Accepting her new role with the team was better than nothing, but it was still very difficult. "When I first came in, I thought that the girls thought that I could do everything and I was just being lazy." She also said that incoming freshman are always curious as to why she does not fully participate. "Sometimes I still do feel isolated," she said. "It's only natural."
Although she does not see any action on the field, that does not mean she fails to make a direct impact with the team. "She practices every day. She pushes people to make them better. Dana enjoys life and competition and brings that to the field," said Mullins.
When she first came to UConn, she was extremely limited as to what she could physically do. Each year she is allowed to do more things, though, and that helps her stay connected with the team.
"I thought I'd be on the sideline as a cheerleader," said Hughes. "At first I wasn't allowed in the weight room and most of the things I can do now. It makes it easier to come to grips with everything."
Academics are also very important to Hughes, as she has been named a BIG EAST Academic All Star.
"The players have tremendous respect for her. We don't know how she survived. The energy she brings to the program is outstanding," said Mullins. "How can that not inspire you?"