Where her feet are: Softball player embraces the scholar AND the athlete

Be where your feet are.

It's the mantra for Heidelberg University softball player Gabbie Stallbaum, the Ohio Athletic Conference Scholar Athlete of the Month, presented by Printing Concepts.  

It's a mantra that Stallbaum, a health science major and psychology minor, uses to focus her attention on the task at hand. Sometimes her feet are in the left-handed batter's box at Frann's Field. Or standing in the HU's George Barlow Body Donor Lab, learning about human anatomy.  And, for a few harrowing stints, her feet were in a hospital bed in Indianapolis.  

Stallbaum prefers to have her feet in the batter's box, where she feels at home. Playing collegiate softball is the byproduct of more than a decade of travel ball, often with her dad, Ted, coaching by her side.

Her time and dedication has paid off. During her freshman year, she set a program record with 28 walks. After sophomore year, Stallbaum was tabbed as an All-OAC Honorable Mention, batting .321, including a team-high five home runs. This season, her junior year, Stallbaum is off to an even hotter start.

But for Stallbaum, it wasn't easy getting to this point. When she was 13, she was diagnosed with a Chiari Malformation, where the brain tissue extends into the spinal column. The condition adversely affected her sleeping patterns, and -- if left untreated -- could have impacted her mobility. With the diagnosis came a plethora of surgeries, in which Stallbaum had to miss out on months of academic and social experiences that others often taken for granted at that age.

"Fortunately, I was always having my surgeries in just enough time for the softball season," said Stallbaum, a native of Paulding, Ohio. "Playing softball was my drive to recover and get better."

The time Stallbaum spent with her feet in hospital-issued, non-slip socks during her treatment also had a profound impact on her life. Her mom, Camie, is a physical therapist, and her sister, Haleigh, is a nurse, which fostered a lifelong appreciation for people in the medical field. Interacting with numerous doctors, physician assistants, nurses and therapists throughout her surgeries and treatments, Stallbaum knew she wanted to pursue a career in the health sciences. The opportunity to play softball in a tight-knit community that resembled Paulding, coupled with Heidelberg's success in preparing students for medical school, led her to choose The Berg.  

While her feet are on the colorful tiled floor in Bareis and Gillmor Science Halls, she has made the most of the academic opportunities available on campus and gained plenty of experience to support her desire to pursue a career as a physician's assistant. Notably, her anatomy and physiology courses held in the cadaver lab have made a lasting impact.

"Dr. Pam Faber's classes in the cadaver lab have helped me build my skills as I get ready for graduate school," said Stallbaum, who also credits athletic training professors Dr. Jena Suffel and Lauren McGraw for helping her navigate the sometimes-tricky path to med school. "If I keep my grades up, I'll be able to register for the Prosection class, where I'll actually have a chance to dissect the cadaver. That's an opportunity most people don't get in undergrad."

Inspired by the professionals who helped her, she hopes to potentially work with rehabbing athletes in the future. To fulfill some of her requirements through Heidelberg's HYPE Career Ready® program, she stayed on campus last summer and split her time shadowing a PA at Mercy Hospital in Tiffin and working for HU's conferences and events team.  

Balancing her academic demands with the rigors of playing college softball at a high level hasn't been easy, but Stallbaum has made it work.

"Just be where your feet are and take a deep breath," said Stallbaum. "Break things down, step-by-step, and don't let things pile up. That's the path to success."


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