It was 1,398 days ago when I decided to come back and play this game as a mother of two little babes, Audrey still just nine months old, and Madison 3½. I still remember the moment, vividly, where it all clicked and I said 'I have to try and do this one more time.'
I was watching the World Cup of Softball on TV in Cape Cod, Mass., while my family was at the beach. I was at my in-laws, eating a sandwich, as my littlest napped. Tiffany Green, the play-by-play commentator, asked analyst Michele Smith a question about when she was at her best as an athlete. Michelle said '34-35"… a light bulb moment for me.
I was 30 years old. I had represented my country numerous times, and hung up the cleats in 2014 after my last summer playing with my (then) only child Madison, at six months old, traveling alongside me. I had conquered everything I needed to in this game and felt at peace with the decision to walk away. But Michele Smith’s comment about her age sparked me and I instantly made the decision to come back, without talking to anyone.
Once I cooled the jets a bit and calmed down, I got back to Seattle with my family and sat down with my husband, and we had a conversation about it. Not an easy conversation. We butted heads, we didn’t agree, but ultimately the support was there because my husband knows the love I have for this game and he knew how incredible the moment would potentially be to finish at an Olympic Games as a mother of two.
Once I made that choice, I reached out to Team Canada coach Mark Smith and arranged to meet up at the Canada Cup. We put everything on the table; the good, bad and the ugly, and hashed it out. I was ready to hit tryout camp in January 2018.
If you told me how challenging this journey would be, I wouldn’t have believed you. It has been the hardest thing I have done as an athlete, a mother, a wife, and a teammate. I suffered anxiety like never before. I had to seek out a sports psychologist, David Elaney, a mental performance coach at the University of Washington. My biggest fear with going back to play was that something might happen to my children while I was gone and ultimately it would be my fault, because I chose to be away from them, pursuing this softball dream one more time. It all came down to realizing that what I do matters, and everything in life has a risk. I still needed to pursue my passion.
Sure enough, my first summer was a whirlwind of scares involving the children. I got a call the day before our team was supposed to head to Japan. My littlest, Audrey (1 ½ at the time) was being rushed by ambulance to undergo surgery to take out a popcorn kernel in her lung. I remember this moment like yesterday. My stomach hit the floor, I regretted being back in the game. I wished I was home. My team flew me home on the next available flight and my stomach was in knots the whole flight home because I knew the surgery was happening. I took an Uber from the airport to the hospital, and finally got to hold my sweet girl and rock her back and forth for hours. My heart ached in that moment, as if this was my fault. That wasn’t the only bump in the road. Audrey also broke her wrist that summer and had to be taken to the hospital to get bandaged up. Luckily I was there for that one.
Being back in this game as a mother of two, (with an additional year of training due to COVID-19) has completely changed my life for the better. It has made me realize that the people behind me are so pure and magic that I can go away and compete without worry.
My love and respect for this game has evolved. I have always been a hard worker, but being part of one of the world’s best teams requires a selfless work ethic. As a momma, you just don’t have as much time as everyone else to get stuff done, because your kids need your time too. So I have become more efficient than ever before. My kids have been alongside me in gyms, bullpens, phone calls, and practices. They have had to watch me, and learn to sit and adjust. When I go through the trenches, and struggle in this game, it doesn’t consume my mind like it has in the past, because I’m a mom first, and I know my family has my back.
I also accept the huge responsibility in seeing this through. I am showing my little girls that setting the bar high means something. I want them to believe that whatever they want to accomplish in life is possible, because their MOMMA DID IT!
It is a unique feeling, knowing that my time in this game is limited. As a woman in sports, you don’t always know when your competing days will be done, but I have an actual countdown. I’m soaking up every single remaining moment in this game because softball has given me a life I love. My respect for this game will always be there. I envision a medal going around my neck every single day, but I will be at peace with whatever happens because I have left no stone unturned.
I’ve loved my family hard, I’ve worked harder than I thought was possible, even through a pandemic. I’ve overcome marriage struggles and I’ve connected with teammates. We have been through similar difficulties and I know we will be friends forever. I have done everything in my power to enjoy the moment
I see Team Canada softball bringing home its first ever Olympic medal. I believe it to my core. Enjoy the moment.
(Top large image submitted by Danielle Lawrie-Locke)