What It Takes to Move Forward

Playing baseball has always been part of life for Corey Nakakura.

The senior Accounting major came to UNC with athletic honors that included playing on the All-Interscholastic League of Honolulu team and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State team, was a two-time varsity captain at ’Iolani School and played travel ball for the Hawaii Rockies.

Nakakura began pitching around age nine, when “coach pitch” in games ends and kids are allowed to start pitching.

With his long history as a pitcher, it may not have been surprising that, in February 2017 at UNC, he sustained one of the most common injuries among pitchers: a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. It’s an injury that’s taken more than a handful of pitchers out of the game.

For this injury, reconstruction surgery is known as Tommy John surgery, made famous by Tommy John, one of the most decorated left-hand pitchers in baseball history. It involves taking a tendon from somewhere else in your body (or someone else’s) in order to repair the damaged tendon.

But the surgery isn’t without controversy (in fact, Tommy John himself is speaking out against its common use on athletes 19 and under) and instead, Nakakura opted for a newer, more experimental surgery, one championed by former St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Seth Maness. This new technique involves repairing the ligament with an internal brace.

Nakakura underwent surgery in Loveland, with the support of his teammates and his dad, Kyle, who’d flown to Colorado from Honolulu.

The surgery was successful, and six months later, Nakakura was back on the pitcher’s mound, knocking the dust off the catcher’s gloves with fastballs and curveballs. Then, during a tough swing while at bat, Nakakura tore something else — this time his labrum, in his shoulder.

“I did not want another arm operation, because it was hard enough to come back from the elbow,” he says.

Instead, he rehabbed his shoulder and went back to ripping fastballs on the pitcher’s mound for his junior year. That spring he earned WAC All-Academic honors, but with two injuries and a major surgery behind him, Nakakura took on a position as undergraduate team manager, and began looking ahead to his post-graduate plans. And they include baseball.

He’s moving back to Honolulu with an offer from his former school, ’Iolani School in Honolulu, to coach full-time after he graduates. While he steps onto that familiar field, he’ll also be preparing for a new one: studying to sit for his CPA exam.

“(My time at UNC) significantly helped me to grow as an individual, academically and physically. I had a really good time in Northern Colorado, and I’m kind of bummed out that my experiences here are coming to a close,” he says. “I’m extremely satisfied with my experiences at Northern Colorado. This place really set me up for success.”

–Jason Keller