Ashlyn Moynihan, an All-Howard County second baseman last year for Howard, couldn’t wait to play her senior season with her friends.
Fate, however, had other plans. As much as high school sports are about lessons learned and preparation for life, Moynihan was about to learn a big one.
One day in mid-October of last year, she awakened with a pain in her side. After sleeping on it for the night, her mother, Stacey Sheppard, took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with appendicitis. Later that morning, her appendix was removed.
All seemed well until 10 days later, when she came home from school with pain in her right pelvis and a low-grade fever. After a cat scan at Howard County General Hospital, she was transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Another cat scan there revealed blood clots in both legs, and it was also discovered that she had a birth abnormality in that her inferior vena cava had never fully developed. The IVC is the main vein that carries blood from the lower body to the heart.
She was place on blood thinners and doctors at Hopkins said playing softball this year posed a risk to her life. If she were to be spiked, bruised or cut, she could bleed to death.
“She was devastated,” Sheppard said. “There was the usual ‘why me?’ It was so hard to watch something she loved so much be taken away from her.”
Sheppard immediately contacted Howard coach Chuck Rice and told him what had happened. For Rice, there was absolutely no doubt; Ashlyn would be on the team in some capacity.
“Obviously, as a coach, you build your team around your returnees,” said Rice, whose team shared the Howard County title last year and now must wait at least two weeks to see if it can start its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. “Losing her was a big blow, but I believe in team chemistry. She is a huge part of our team and her teammates love and respect her. I knew we had to find a role for her.”
Moynihan said: “I knew I wanted to do something to support the team. I wanted to feel a part of something, and I’m so happy that Coach Chuck put me on the team. He’s always been a big supporter of mine.”
Moynihan has plenty of supporters among the Howard softball team.
“She’s one of the bubbliest, most sweet people on the team, so it was definitely a blow when we found out,” said senior Paige Eakes, a returning first-team All-Metro catcher for the Lions. “She hasn’t let this whole situation change her. She always saw the positives and what she could contribute. We were overjoyed when we found out she’d be on the team. It wouldn’t be the same without her.”
The life lessons have not been lost on Eakes’ teammates, either.
“It’s taught me not to take anything for granted,” junior pitcher Samantha Hobert said. “It made me want to be there for her. We need to get as much as we can out of every day, because you never know when it could be taken away.”
Right fielder Abby Trimmer, one of Moynihan’s best friends on the team, says it didn’t surprise her at all that Rice put her on the team, even though she might not play this year.
“He always tells us that we are like his kids,” Trimmer said of Rice. “He saw the passion she brings [to the team], and how that passion has grown in her. She brightens everyone’s day.”
For now, Moynihan has a new role. She has been cleared to throw and catch, and hit off a tee at practice. During the games, if they do resume later this spring, she’ll be relegated to the dugout, where her passion and enthusiasm will fill another role.
Moynihan is making progress in her rehabilitation. Sheppard says the blood clot in the left leg has resolved itself, while the one in the right leg is shrinking. If it is gone at her next checkup in early April, there is a chance that she could be put on a maintenance dose of blood thinners and resume her softball career.
Regardless of whether that happens or not, Sheppard is proud of her daughter.
“She could consider this a down, but she’s winning in my eyes,” Sheppard said. “I think her story is a strong message to anyone. This is a great example that life throws you things, but it’s what you make of them that matters.”