OU softball: Lauren Chamberlain wants to keep advocating for women after retirement

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Lauren Chamberlain warms up on the field before a 2013 game between USA and Canada at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. Chamberlain recently announced her retirement from softball.

The pain became too much.

An emotional Lauren Chamberlain retired from professional softball on May 31.

The former Oklahoma star cemented herself as college softball’s best home-run hitter because of her unmatched swing.

Her most dangerous weapon ultimately exposed her, however, to lingering back issues.

“I swing the bat really hard and the torque that I create in my hips and my back, I just generate a lot of power,” Chamberlain said. “I've been swinging since I was 8 years old. So, my first kind of run in with back issues happened my junior year in college.

“I missed a big chunk of that season because of my back and some slipped-disc issues. It started really in college and just as I got older and more repetition, it just continued to go downhill.”

The health issues Chamberlain developed didn’t keep her from hammering an NCAA record 95 career home runs. USSSA Pride then selected her first overall in the 2015 National Pro Fastpitch draft.

Chamberlain still never felt the way she had before her injury.

“I couldn't really go 1,000 percent like I was normally used to,” she said. “After you slip a disc, you feel a little bit more fragile.

“I think that's what happened throughout the rest of my career, was I had to manage my energy and how much I put into playing, because I could either manage the pain or just not really care about it.”

Chamberlain chose to manage it as long as possible. But an incident made it clear she couldn’t keep going.

“I had a health scare this offseason involving an epidural injection gone wrong,” Chamberlain said. “That was pretty much the final straw of just offseason mishaps that had to do with my back that kept me from being able to fully play.”

Chamberlain’s shortened career leaves her to focus on other ambitions. She wants to stay around softball, but overall, she wants to uplift women.

The Trabuco Canyon, California, native is accustomed to fans coming up to her at softball games. But her appearance in ESPN Magazine’s 2018 edition of “The Body Issue” has made her even more recognizable.

The issue showed popular athletes photographed nude and semi-nude and discussed their physical traits. The opportunity gave Chamberlain a chance to be the role model she never saw as a child.

"You think someone just wants to take a picture or sign this," Chamberlain said. "They end up getting a little teary-eyed telling me about The Body Issue and how it affected them. Or just watching me play inspired them to be a better athlete and be a better human. That's the stuff that sticks with me.

“When I was growing up I didn't see many women on TV or many women with my body type. So, in both aspects, to be a professional athlete getting more media coverage or being a woman in sports, that's huge.

“Seeing my body type, a little thicker, not as mainstream as we're used to seeing on covers of magazines is now the cover of the ESPN Body Issue, and it's a sparking conversation.”

Chamberlain wants to continue the discussion and empower young women like her mother, Pam, did for her.

“She's always been a powerhouse woman,” Chamberlain said. “... She's just been kind of that boss image for me since I was younger. So to see her and command a room when she's got her conferences, people respect her so much.

“She always inspired me to be the best at whatever I'm doing and reach that height of whatever I'm doing.”

Chamberlain hopes to do more speaking engagements and mold the next generation of athletes firsthand.

She and her boyfriend, former Tulsa receiver Brodrick Umblance, currently manage a performance facility in Edmond. But Chamberlain hasn’t completely ruled out coaching — a few programs have expressed interest, she says.

Chamberlain's still mentally invested in softball, but wants to utilize her brand to inspire women and young girls, no matter their appearance.

"When you're young, it's all about seeing who you want to be, right?" Chamberlain said. "Seeing what you can be.

"I think for all those little girls that got the opportunity to see a softball player on TV, see someone with their body type on TV, and if I'm creating that conversation and being a part of that change, then I feel like I'm doing the right thing."

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