STILLWATER, Oklahoma — Samantha Clakley was warming up in the circle, preparing to pitch in the first round of the 2018 Big 12 Softball championship against Baylor when she looked down at her monitor that is attached to her right hip and saw that her blood sugar level was at half of where it should be.
This was the first time Clakley’s Type 1 diabetes caused her to miss a game.
“I was watching and it kept dropping and dropping and I was trying to do everything that I can to stable it out,” Clakley said. “But it continued to drop and I got out on the field and I was at like the 60s and normal is like 120.”
In efforts to balance Clakley’s blood sugar levels, Wes Ulm, OSU’s softball strength and conditioning coach, helped in any way as they tried different foods such as candy and other sugar-packed snacks to bump it up.
“When she got out on the field, I could tell something was wrong,” Ulm said. “She knew something was wrong, obviously, and her blood sugar was too low for her to continue to preform.”
Clakley, 21, went back to the dugout and her blood sugar had dropped significantly.
“I got pretty ‘panicky’ and got really scared because I got taken off the field, but it wasn’t because I couldn’t function or do anything,” Clakley said.
The Cowgirls lost to Baylor 7-1, but that was the first of the two games that day. OSU had a matchup with Texas Tech six hours later, and Clakley’s blood sugar was back to a stable level.
Clakley was put back in the lineup and pitched, putting in a solid five innings, giving up three runs on seven hits and getting the 7-6 win against Texas Tech.
Despite the bounce back, Ulm said Clakely’s crash before the Baylor game was one of the lower points of his career for what she had to go through that day. This resonated with Clakley and put a sense of perspective on her situation.
“After that happened I was like, ‘OK, this stuff is actually serious,’” Clakley said. “I’ve always dealt with it and I’ve always known it was there and done what the doctors have told me to, but after that happened that’s when I really started to get bought into it.”
Taylor Lynch, Clakley’s teammate, said the incident was a check for the pitcher that she needed to seriously manage her diabetes.
“It was kind of a wake-up call for her because there she is starting the Baylor game and now she can’t anymore,” Lynch said. “So I think it was a wake-up call for her and I don’t see that ever happening again.”
Lynch said Clakley does a great job managing her blood sugar, and the team is always there to help her.
The team is aware of her diabetes and are all slowly learning more about so they can not only help their pitcher on the field, but also off.
“I think that she does really good managing it and we help her with that,” Lynch said. “I don’t think it affects her at all. I think it makes her better.”
Ulm has been a key contributor in helping Clakley monitor her levels with making sure she eats the right food and keeping her blood sugar stable so she doesn’t have to worry on the field.
“I think the biggest thing I do is that I hold her pretty accountable,” Ulm said. “I get her pump, if it’s not on her I hold it and constantly monitor it. I’m all over her about those numbers on that pump.”
Last spring, Clakley got a pump attached to her right hip put allowing her to be able to check her blood sugar levels all the time.
Before getting the pump, Clakley said she would have to take a shot a day of long-lasting insulin that would keep her stable but switched to the pump because her body stopped producing insulin.
Kenny Gajewski, OSU’s coach, wants to make sure Clakley has the appropriate support so she is able to compete.
“We just make sure we have the tools for her, to have what she needs and most of that’s food,” Gajewski said. “The right food, the right things and the communication. I think those are the things we got for her.”
Gajewski said he tells the team to try to use the time on the field to relax and take its minds off whatever is going on outside the diamond.
To the team, Gajewski tells them to try and minimize the bad days and communicate with the staff when those bad days happen. It’s also important for the players to learn to manage those bad days as best as they can.
Gajewski said Clakley was an example of someone who enjoys her time out on the field and wants to be out there working on her game.
“That can kind of be your free time to get away and escape everything, life’s problems and our issues,” Gajewski said. “Treat the field like a recess, and she does that and she’s a model of that.”
The team takes notice to Clakley’s work ethic in the pitching circle while balancing the management of her diabetes.
“That’s a constant struggle for her to get that right, and I assume that will be a life event for her,” Gajewski said. “She is a good kid. Comes to work, comes to prepare, wants to pitch and loves to pitch.”
Lynch highlighted her roommate’s competiveness when she is pitching against the opposition and how dedicated she is to getting better as a pitcher.
“She wants to win,” Lynch said. “She wants to win every pitch she throws and when she doesn’t win a pitch, you can tell. She just wants to get better and keep getting better, and that’s kind of the workhorse mentality she has.”
Clakley gives this impression of her hard work mindset even Samantha Show, a transfer pitcher from Texas A&M, experienced being with the team for only a couple of months.
“She just does what she needs to do,” Show said. “She may be in trouble, but she’ll get through it. She’s a great teammate.”
With more time, Clakley understands more each day of how to handle her diabetes and has helped mature her.
Clakely said that it’s still a work in progress because she still trying to figure out exactly how to handle her diabetes, but doesn’t worry because she knows she has more than enough support.
“It’s definitely something I have to constantly think about and it’s made me mature in a lot of ways,” Clakely said.
Clakley grew up in Carthage and attended Carthage High School where she learned she had diabetes, but she did not let it hold her back.
She was a two-time Texas Girls Coaches Association All-State selection in 2012 and 2015. Clakley also was named a to first-team All-State and second-team All-State member in 2014 by the Texas Sports Writer Association.
Clakley decided to stay in her home state and went on to the University of Texas in Arlington to play collegiate softball and no problems handling her diabetes because it wasn’t as severe in her two seasons with the Mavericks.
Before the 2017-18 season, Clakley made the decision to transfer from UTA to OSU to present new challenges and test her ability. She showed her dedication in her first season as a Cowgirl, pitching in 164.2 innings in 35 games and named a second-team All-Big 12 performer.
Clakley posted a stretch of 26 consecutive appearances and did not walk more than two batters.
In 15 appearances during her senior season, Clakley has pitched 55.1 innings and has a team-best 2.02 ERA. She said the best way for her to be able to help the Cowgirls is to be available and make sure she is at the right blood sugar levels.
Clakley said a goal she has for her senior year is to work more on understanding her diabetes and keeping her levels stable so she can function for her team.
“Of course I want to preform really well and have an outstanding year, but I just want to do whatever I can for the team,” Clakley said.
Getting the support, the necessary treatment and knowledge has helped Clakley better understand her diabetes, but she understands that all these resource might not be there and it’s ultimately on her.
“It has a mind of its own and I set my mind that I want to do whatever to control it as much as I can and not let it control me,” Clakley said.