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Pitching In

After a career-altering elbow injury sidelined Braves pitcher Kris Medlen for the 2014 season, family support and face time with cancer patients have propped him up in unexpected ways.

Braves star-pitcher Kris Medlen shaved his head to help fundraise for childhood cancer.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kris Medlen was on track to repeat another playoff-making season this year when misfortune struck. He blew out his right arm during a spring-training game and underwent a season-ending Tommy John surgery to mend a torn elbow ligament—for the second time in a little more than three years.

Medlen remembers staying on the mound and continuing to pitch, with the yearlong rehab process playing through his mind the entire time. “I said, ‘No frigging way,’ so I threw another pitch, and it was a nine on the pain scale,” he says. “The first pitch felt like someone stabbed me, and the second time it felt like someone twisted the knife.”

Frustrated and angry, he left the field and admits he was in agony by the time he reached the dugout. “Having it one time is bad enough, but having it a second time is extremely rare. I never expected to have it happen again,” he says. “Absolutely not.”

The bright side? Medlen, 28, was able to go through the surgery and start the rehab process with the loving support of his wife of two years, Nicki, and their 1-year-old son, Max. “Back in 2010, that [first injury] was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” he recalls. “I’d never been hurt in my entire life. This time, having a family to come home to and to be able to leave everything on the field has been so good and taught me how to handle the ups and downs.”

Helping him through it are the couple’s new roles as Braves spokespersons for the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research. Medlen already shaved his full head of hair this spring as part of the Rally vs. Cancer challenge and donated $10,000 to the cause. He also pledged to donate a $1,000 match to the first 10 participants who raise $1,000.

Seeing brave children fighting cancer has given him incredible perspective. “It’s been life-changing to meet families that are going through an actual tough time—with having kids in the hospital,” Medlen says. “Anytime I get down on myself, I channel them and use their strength to pick myself up. Having elbow surgery is a big deal to me, but there’s a lot more going on in life than baseball.”