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WCWS: OU's Jessica Shults no longer takes softball for granted

After suffering from pan-ulcerative colitis last postseason, Sooner catcher Jessica Shults is enjoying the opportunity to play in the Women's College World Series.
by Jenni Carlson Published: May 30, 2012

Jessica Shults might not have smiled the entire time she was on the field at Hall of Fame Stadium on Wednesday.

Then again, she might have.

No one would've blamed her.

The Oklahoma catcher was here a year ago when the Sooners made their first trip to the Women's College World Series in seven seasons. She wore the uniform. She relished the atmosphere. But coming off an illness that caused her to lose 25 pounds and miss half a dozen games, she hadn't been cleared to play.

“It's always been my dream to go to the world series,” Shults said. “I've been watching it my whole life.”

Last year, even though her team was playing, she was still watching.

This year is different.

Shults is back to her old self, and the Sooners are back at the WCWS. They will open at noon Thursday against South Florida.

“Having an opportunity to play at the world series,” Shults said, “it's unreal.”

She was smiling, of course.

Coincidentally, that happy face was something Shults put on frequently last season, but then, it was just a mask. She wanted her teammates to believe she was fine. She wanted her coaches to think there was no problem.

That was far from the truth.

Midway through the season, she started feeling sick, enduring stomach pain and abdominal cramps. She figured her heavy-on-the-burgers, light-on-the-fruit diet had caught up to her, so she decided to start eating better.

It didn't help.

Her energy plummeted. So did her weight.

Eventually, the coaches moved her from catcher to designated hitter, and she continued to play and gut it out as best she could. But those closest to Shults could see through the mask.

“It wasn't her,” Sooner outfielder and Shults roommate Brianna Turang said. “She tried so hard to act like she was OK.

“We knew she was just in so much pain.”

Shults was admitted to the hospital right before the Sooners started regionals, and over the next few days, she was poked, prodded and pricked. Doctors finally determined that she had pan-ulcerative colitis, an extremely rare genetic disease that has no cure and affects the body's digestive system.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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