TAMPA — They are the turbines through which power is generated, the purveyors of torque, the fulcrum upon which a stance segues into a swing. In a hitter's universe, hips are oxygen.
"Oh, gosh, that's your swing," longtime Chamberlain High softball coach Bob Diez said.
And senior Stephanie Medina's hips have been throbbing from the moment she put on a USF uniform.
Mind over matter? The 22-year-old epitome of that creed plays first base for the Bulls. Despite a ravaged right hip that needed surgery for a labral tear in June, Medina never missed a game in her first three college seasons.
Currently she has a labral tear in her left hip that ultimately will require surgery. Yet she has played in 37 of 40 contests this year and likely will be a lineup fixture in this weekend's home series against UCF (1 and 3:15 p.m. today, 1 p.m. Sunday, USF Softball Stadium).
"It's just one of those things where I know that I only have a certain amount of months left and then after that I'm never going to play softball again," said Medina, second on the team in hits (34) and RBIs (22), and tied for fourth in average (.333).
"So it's one of those things where I just kind of have to push through it and hope for the best."
Ignoring pain has grown as routine for Medina as lacing up a pair of cleats, and cleats are a part of how the hip maladies began.
Medina tried the metal variety once as a junior at Chamberlain and felt a tweak while trying to forehand a ground ball. Assistant Tim Mouse told her to remove them.
She didn't wear them again until arriving at USF. At her first Bulls practice, Medina's foot got stuck in the clay, pulling her hamstring and eliciting another hip tweak. She hasn't worn metal cleats again, but the damage was done.
"I don't know whether or not the cleats had anything to do with them being torn or if at that time it just happened," Medina said. "But from all the stretching I've done at first base, I'm sure it gradually kind of just (tore)."
Even so, Medina, whose older sister JoJo also played first base for the Bulls from 2007-10, started all 53 games as a freshman. Subsisting on resolve and pain-killing shots, she led the team in six offensive categories, including home runs (eight) and RBIs (50).
By her sophomore season, when the Bulls earned the program's first Women's College World Series berth, Medina had evolved into a third-team all-Big East selection. The ensuing fall, she tore her left labrum while sliding in an exhibition game against Santa Fe College.
The next spring, she hit .281 with seven homers and a career-best 50 hits.
"I don't know if I could do what she's done, especially with the injuries that she's had and the surgeries and the rehab and all that kind of stuff," Bulls coach Ken Eriksen said. "They say women give birth for a reason. I don't want to have to experience that ever."
These days, Medina's discomfort can range from mild to miserable, depending on the degree of exertion. Treatments after a game or practice can be as simple as an ice pack or as extensive as 30 to 45 minutes of ice, stretching and stimulation treatments.
"(The hips) have been messed up for so long that it's a good feeling to know that (the right) one feels so much stronger than it used to," said Medina, working toward her master's degree in criminology. "It's nice to just only have to worry about my left and not both."
The real grimacing is done when Eriksen has insisted on sitting her, which he did twice during a pair of early season tournaments when USF played up to six games in a weekend. Certain weekday practices also are decreed as offdays.
Soon, the offdays will arrive in bulk. Only six weeks or so remain in Medina's softball life, and she's bent on maximizing every moment. Anything less? That would be a pain too great to bear.
"Yes, it hurts, and I know it hurts, but if I show pain, then my teammates see that, and I don't want anybody to feel bad for me in the middle of a game," she said. "I'm here, I'm going to play all seven innings, all eight innings, however many we have to play.''