CHICORA, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Ally Walker has been through a great deal in her young life.
She’s had to overcome more than most.
The trials Walker has had to endure have toughened her up. Shaped her.
What she has faced has given the Karns City senior a unique perspective on things. It’s the foundation of her dry and witty sense of humor. And, in a weird way, the hardships have given her a rare and priceless gift: mental toughness and the ability to not sweat the small stuff.
“Yeah,” she says, letting out a wry laugh. “I’m kind of a mess all around.”
Walker has a strong will on the softball field, too, forged from pain, uncertainty and perseverance. Striking out or popping up to the shortstop doesn’t carry the same sting when you’ve had to carry some of the burdens Walker has had to shoulder over the years.
Walker doesn’t strike out or pop up a lot, however. She batted .390 last year for the Gremlins as a designated hitter — a sore rotator cuff in her right shoulder limiting her time in the circle and at first and second base.
Walker also had a gaudy on base percentage of .419.
She doesn’t let much stop her these days, just like she didn’t let a cascade of health scares impede her.
Walker’s life started to change a few weeks before the end of her eighth-grade year. She was experiencing strange and sudden uncontrollable jerks in her arms and legs.
“I would just flail my arms,” Walker said. “Basically, whatever I was holding in my hand, I’d just throw. I had no idea what was going on.”
On June 5, 2018 – the last day of her eighth-grade school year – she found out.
Walker had a severe epileptic seizure. She was quickly diagnosed with generalized epilepsy, as well as juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.
It’s hereditary, but no one on either side of her family has been diagnosed with the disorder. It’s also impossible to determine the initial trigger.
“I guess I’m the the very special one in our family,” Walker said, chuckling. “I stand out now.”
The diagnosis was just the beginning of her journey.
The hard part was finding the right medication and dosage to control her seizures. While she only had the one full-blown epileptic attack, Walker suffered through unrelenting bouts of absence seizures and sudden, myoclonic jerks.
Through it all, Walker still played softball.
She was undaunted. Nothing was going to stop her from playing the sport she loved.
It was difficult and there were times when she wanted to give up. Walker burned through five ineffective medications over a frustrating two-year period.
“Some of them would make me super dizzy,” Walker said. “Some would make my face and hands completely numb. And I was playing softball through all this. I would shake my hand between pitches to try to get some feeling in it. I lost a lot of weight. It was awful.”
Finally at the beginning of her sophomore year, doctors found the right medication and dose to control her seizures without the debilitating side effects. Walker has been fine ever since.
Then COVID hit, wiping out her 10th grade season.
Walker said she was terrified of contracting COVID, not because of what that disease could do to her, but because of what the symptoms of that virus — such as a high fever — could do to her epilepsy.
A significant fever could cause another severe epileptic seizure.
“I wasn’t afraid of the virus,” Walker said. “I was afraid of the epilepsy.”
Walker was also unsure of what her softball future would hold.
She had no designs on playing beyond high school. She said she didn’t think she was good enough to play at the next level. But all that changed this summer following her standout junior campaign.
Late to the recruiting game, she had some major catching up to do.
“At first it was really stressful because I started really late,” Walker said. “I didn’t even have a highlight video or anything.”
Turns out, she didn’t really need one. While playing travel ball with Pittsburgh Power, Walker was already on the radar of Mount Aloysius College coach Jeff Bicko.
Walker visited the school to watch her boyfriend, Karns City junior Mallick Metcalfe, play a baseball game and became enamored with the campus. She dug deeper into the school.
Walker applied and was accepted. She then reached out to Bicko.
“He was like, ‘Do you want to play?’” Walker said. “I was like, ‘Sure.’ So it kind of all worked out.”
Walker signed her National Letter of Intent to play at Mount Aloysius on Tuesday.
With that done, Walker is now focused on the spring and her lofty goals — both for herself and Karns City.
Gremlins’ softball coach Mike Stitt said Walker is poised to have an even bigger season in 2022 than she enjoyed in 2021.
“She’s tackled everything in her life head on,” Stitt said. “There’s no quit in her. She’s a fighter. She’s a fun player, and I expect a lot out of her this year. I told her that. We did a couple of things in the fall with fall ball and she was hitting with power. I expect that from her come spring.”
Walker considers herself more of a singles and doubles hitter. She’s just happy to be in the lineup at all, even if it’s in the bottom third.
Karns City’s lineup is loaded one through nine. There are no places for a pitcher to take a deep breath. There are no easy outs.
“Just being in this lineup is a compliment,” Walker said.
Stitt sees his lineup as a puzzle with each spot serving a purpose.
Walker’s purpose is just like anyone else’s: get on base.
“I do my job,” Walker said. “I actually like fielding and pitching a lot better than hitting. I feel like I have a pretty good glove. I’m not the fastest pitcher, relatively speaking.”
Stitt said Walker has a devastating drop ball while in the circle.
Not bad for a girl who started on the baseball diamond — and struggled mightily.
“I was a pretty terrible baseball player,” Walker said. “I mean, I was really awful. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s surprising I was able to do anything in softball. I worked my butt off as soon as I turned 10.”
Long before the epilepsy, Walker had to overcome another major medical issue. When she was 12, she broke her leg in a dirt bike accident.
“I snapped my tibia in half just below my left knee,” Walker said. “It was Dec. 27 and the snow was starting to melt. My younger brother had gotten a dirt bike and my mom and dad were like, ‘C’mon, try the dirt bike.’ I didn’t want to. I was like, ‘Nah, I’m good.’ But I rode it anyway. We had a pool that wasn’t done yet and there was a retaining wall and a post exposed. I hit the post and went over the handlebars. Game over.”
Doctors stabilized the displaced fracture in the leg with a plate and six screws. They were only just recently removed.
Healthy now and with a unique take on life, Walker has her sights set on winning the District 9 softball championship this season after losing in the title game twice during her career.
“I’m sitting here looking at those two silver medals,” Walker said. “They’re pretty and all, but I want gold. No one says, ‘I love being runner-up.’”