Portland High School senior Sadie Armstrong will play for Division I Longwood University in Virginia next year. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

First came the mangled left foot, suddenly torn apart during a game. Then the illness and anxiety, which rose up from nowhere and refused to go away.

For Sadie Armstrong, everything in softball – which meant the world to her – had been going so right. Then, at what felt like the most important time, it started going so relentlessly wrong.

“There were definitely some times where I was like, ‘Is this really worth it?’ ” the Portland High School senior said recently. “ ‘Do I really come back to softball? Is there something better I can be doing?’ And every time, I was like, ‘No. This is the sport I was meant to be doing.’ ”

In July 2019, a 13-year-old Armstrong attended a showcase tournament in Mississippi. She was on third base when the catcher, looking to pick her off the base, instead threw wildly toward third and into the outfield. Armstrong got up to run home, and as she planted, the third baseman accidentally stepped on her left foot. The foot stayed put while her body moved forward.

She freed herself, made it home and scored the run. Then a wave of pain shot up her leg.

“(I saw) a visible ball of coiled-up ligaments and spectacularly colorful bruising that was on the bottom of my foot,” Armstrong wrote in February 2020 in a blog post on Extra Innings Softball, “and I knew in that instant that … this was no Ace bandage and Biofreeze type of injury.”


It wasn’t. The injury – a severe fracture in the foot – required surgery and six months of rehab. It also took a toll on her mentally. She then got mononucleosis in the fall of her freshman year and developed gastroparesis, a condition that slows stomach contractions and delays digestion. Her world was turned upside down.

Five years after one of the worst years in her young life left her prospects of ever playing again uncertain, Armstrong has powered through to become one of the most feared hitters in the state and a top-of-the-line pitcher. She’s committed to play next year in Division I at Longwood University in Virginia.

“I would definitely describe it as a roller coaster of experiences,” she said. “It’s been a really big impact on my softball, but it’s not something I let define me. It’s something that happened, but it’s not who I am on the field.”

Technically, Armstrong is playing in her fifth year of high school softball under an eligibility waiver from the Maine Principals’ Association. She repeated her senior year, a decision her family made since she could only attend school sporadically her freshman year because of the injury and illness.

According to MPA rules, an additional 18 weeks of eligibility can be granted to athletes following a review process, provided they meet one of a list of hardships. MPA Director Mike Burnham said the organization reviews several waiver applications a year.

Armstrong, 18, finished her final regular season this spring with a .543 batting average, three home runs and 20 RBI. In the pitching circle, she went 12-4 with a 1.76 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 87.1 innings.


Watch her generate power from her 6-foot frame into her fastballs, or watch the ball leap off the barrel of her bat, and it’s hard to believe that that physical prowess could have ever been threatened.

“Her hands are so great. She never rolls over the ball,” Portland second baseman Hannah Hawkes said. “She never pops it up. It’s always line drives. Hard, hard line drives.”

That’s been the story since middle school. Her parents, Julie and Kirk, played softball and baseball, and her early exposure accelerated her development. She played on travel teams in and out of Maine. She represented the United States in two 12U All-American Games, tournaments put on by the United States Specialty Sports Association in Florida.

Armstrong is one of the top softball players in the state. The Portland senior is playing her fifth year under a Maine Principals’ Association eligibility waiver. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

And she quickly caught the attention of high-profile Division I schools. Florida State was interested, as were South Carolina and Stanford.

“I remember Sadie at probably (her) same height (now) as a 10-year-old,” said Massabesic Coach Kevin Tutt, who coached Armstrong in middle school. “(She was a) really strong kid, and it was early, early in her life that she was being looked at, which is kind of fun here in Maine.”

The injury in Mississippi, although an accident, changed everything. And Armstrong knew it the moment she touched home plate on the fateful play.


Once the adrenaline wore off, she said, the pain was unrelenting.

“It felt like my foot had been put through a meat grinder,” she said. “It hurt so bad. I’m not a big crier, but boy, did I cry.”

It was, in fact, a Lisfranc fracture, which occurred when the metatarsal bones that formed the front of her foot were displaced from the bones in the middle of the foot. It’s an injury that can greatly affect mobility and nix athletic careers.

“The joints are not in the right position, and the ligaments that go with them are automatically torn,” said Dr. Gregory Pomeroy, Armstrong’s surgeon and the retired former director of New England Foot and Ankle Specialists. “That’s what makes it so difficult. If you try to reconstruct it, not only do you have to get all of these little joints back exactly right but you have to get the ligaments to heal to hold them in a stable pattern. … That injury for athletes has been problematic.”

Pomeroy said there are two surgical approaches to a Lisfranc fracture: restore the foot’s joints and ligaments, which can often lead to arthritis because of the damage they suffered, or weld them together “so they’re one solid piece of bone.”

Pomeroy said he performed the second (and often preferred) option on Armstrong because he thought it would lead to fewer complications. He acknowledged that, at the time, he still felt Armstrong’s bright future was on shaky ground.


“(There was) a chance of walking with a limp,” he said. “At that time, as I remember, she was ranked nationally. She really had a shot at, if she continued to progress, getting a scholarship to play in college. This injury certainly put that at risk. … In order for you to push off, you’ve got to be able to transfer your weight to your forefoot and push. And all of those forces go right through that midfoot. When that is dislocated or not aligned properly and not working, it’s impossible to have any push-off strength or power.”

Armstrong is back playing softball after a gruesome foot injury nearly derailed her career when she was 13. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Armstrong said the aftermath of the injury hit her hard.

“Knowing that I’ve worked so hard toward something, and then hearing you’re going to lose it all quick as the snap of your fingers, it was really eye-opening,” she said. “That was a bit of a tear-jerker. … (Softball) was part of who I am. It still is. … It’s such a big part of my life and has gotten me where I am in school and friends and life.”

In the midst of the despair, however, Armstrong felt a sense of resolve.

“It really made me think, ‘I’m going to fight a lot harder for the things I love, and not let some doctor tell me that it’s gone,’ ” she said. “I (wanted) to prove (them) wrong.”

The road back was tedious. Armstrong used a wheelchair for three months, a knee scooter for close to a month and then a walking boot for two more. She was laid up constantly in the first three months, forced to keep her foot elevated for 20 hours a day. The athlete who lived her life on the go had to suddenly sit around and fend off cabin fever.


“I think that set in hour three of day one,” she said. “At that point, I don’t think I had sat on my couch for more than an hour at a time. … At the beginning, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have a nice little break, this might not be too terrible.’ But then we got into it, and it was really hard.”

When she wasn’t visiting doctors or knocked out by the medication she was taking, she tried to keep herself occupied. She worked out her arms and chest, watched teammates’ softball clips online, and read about baseball and softball strategy.

“It was keeping me in the sport, even if I couldn’t be directly on the field with the girls,” she said.

She also explored other interests to fill the time. She practiced playing the violin. She worked on her art and drawing (“I like to think (I became) a better artist, but I don’t know,” she said). She started blogging about her playing experiences and recovery. She watched TV, with “Vampire Diaries,” “Family Guy” and “The Office” her go-to choices.

“Of course, I forced my dad to watch all of them,” she said. “Poor guy.”

She also persuaded her parents to let her get a dog. She recruited her siblings to help her with the pitch, and soon after got a miniature Dachshund she named Harper, short for Bryce Harper, the Philadelphia Phillies superstar.


“I made a PowerPoint for my parents as to why I should have it, what kind of dog we should get, I did the whole research,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, Dad, it’ll get me out of the house. We can go for walks; it’ll be great!’ He was a sucker for that one.”

That first November, she began physical therapy and had to relearn a walking motion on a rebuilt foot that didn’t have the range it did before the surgery.

“(I was) going back to basic functions, so basic (as) heel, toe, put the pressure on your foot, move your knee, take a step. That basic,” she said. “That took a lot out of me, mentally. It was such a slow process, and (I was) thinking ‘I’m never going to get back.’ ”

Out of the rehab, however, came an epiphany.

“Once you have something that clicks, like in sports, if something clicks, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got it now,’ and you start to do it,” she said. “That same thing happened with the physical recovery. Once I started walking, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m back. I can move again. I have freedom again, I feel like a real person again.’ ”

Her physical challenges, however, weren’t through. She got mononucleosis and gastroparesis late in the fall of her freshman year. The mono also enlarged her spleen, and her recovery and the medication it required knocked her out of school for stretches throughout the year.


“I (couldn’t) eat – I couldn’t even hold down medicine. I was losing weight really rapidly,” she said. “I can’t even remember freshman year half the time.”

Armstrong tried to attend class remotely but had trouble absorbing information because of problems with the technology, and the doctor visits and medication often made her miss whole days of class. That’s what prompted her parents to hold her back for a year as a senior, to give her more school and social development time before she goes to college.

“It was probably the hardest year of my life,” she said. “It was the whole FOMO thing – fear of missing out. I felt like I was just watching the world pass me by.”

Even when she was cleared to play softball again in the spring of her freshman year, Armstrong struggled. She earned a spot on the Rhode Island Thunder travel team for the summer heading into her sophomore year, but she got anxious about proving herself to the older girls she was playing with, and about playing at a high level after her injury and recovery from mono.

“I wanted to show up for these big girls. I wanted them to think I’m one of them and not some little girl on the field. I (wanted) my coaches to be proud of me,” she said.

But feeling confident that all this could happen wasn’t so easy for her.


“For me … instead of, ‘I’m going to strike you out,’ it’s, ‘Oh, I hope they don’t hit it at me. I hope they don’t hit a home run.’ So it was kind of flipping those thoughts into negatives.”

Armstrong knew she was in trouble and sought out the help of a sports psychologist. She still sees one to this day, and the therapy helps her reframe those negative thoughts into positive ones.

“(I feel it) in my stomach. I get those stomachaches almost like butterflies in your stomach, and I get really tense. I can really feel it, but that also lets me know that it’s there and I can calm myself down,” she said. “Instead of using ‘I can’t’ statements, or ‘Don’t do this,’ be like, ‘I will do this’ instead. If I was hitting and I said, ‘Don’t drop your barrel (the middle-end of the bat) when you’re hitting,’ instead I’ll say, ‘I’m going to throw my barrel (of the bat) as hard as I can each swing.’ ”

Armstrong prepares to hit a softball during pregame warmups on May 14. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

It’s been an ongoing process.

“I’m still battling it,” she said. “I probably will be battling it for a long time.”

Still, she credits that professional help with returning her to a positive frame of mind, which helped bring her back to her preinjury self. She batted .568 with five home runs and 20 RBI and went 10-5 with a 2.36 ERA in 2022, which was her junior year but just her second year on the high school team. Last season, in her first senior year, she hit .468 with three home runs, though a cyst on her rotator cuff kept her from pitching,


In addition to playing, she coaches the Maine Thunder U14 team with her mother, and she started her own nonprofit, the Diamond in the Rough scholarship fund, to support fellow New England athletes who want to play college softball. When she turned 18 last July, she started a GoFundMe for the scholarship, asking for $18 donations, and raised $1,300.

“We really want these girls to have the best softball community they can,” Armstrong said. “It’s so small in Maine. It is such a small community that we’re like, ‘Let’s have the best experience ever.’ ”

Playing Division I softball was her dream, and she clinched it when she signed with Longwood. She will join a program that has reached its conference championship game three of the last five seasons.

“(I visited) and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is it,'” she said. “It was like a Hallmark movie, it was so cute. I fell in love with the school, the coaches, the people, the community. It was everything I ever wanted.”

The school is happy to have her.

“She’s obviously very strong. She has the ability to hit the full strike zone, she definitely attacks pitches (and is) very aggressive at the plate, which bodes well for the college game,” Longwood Coach Dr. Megan Brown said. “(She has) a huge upside, she’s obviously a tremendously talented young woman and I’m excited to see what she can do in the future.”

A few years ago, that future was in doubt. Now, Armstrong is ready to grab it.

“I keep thinking about the journey, every time I step on the field,” she said. “It made me appreciate every chance I have to step on the field and play with the girls I’m playing with.”

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