Beijing 2008

Lauren’s Journey

When I got the initial email to rejoin Softball Canada, I couldn’t help but be a little uneasy.

I haven’t picked up a ball since 2008.

I haven’t thrown one single pitch in eight years.

Call it fear, call it anxiety, call it what you want, but I found myself typing a “thanks, but no thanks” email almost immediately.

My husband, Dave, told me to sleep on it. There was so much to consider. We have three kids at home. We’re running our business, TrAk Athletics. And, there’s that little issue of not having played softball in nearly a decade.

So, I slept on it (and in the end, my hubby was right, but don’t tell him that).

When I closed my eyes, I could remember what it was like to be part of a team. I started taking my old life and patching it with my new one. Softball WAS my life back then. And now I have three little (big) kids and a husband that has filled my roster for the last eight years.

The next thing I knew, I was accepting a position on the team. That meant I would be doing several weeks’ worth of training camps and exhibition games in California and Japan this summer, and, ultimately, playing in the World Championships in British Columbia, Canada (what are the chances?).

Since the day I had decided it was a go, I have been living in a whirlwind, trying to figure out how to squeeze in some much-needed training, spend time with my three beautiful/terrorizing children (depending on the day) and manage TrAk Athletics, which my husband and I started last year.

Fortunately, I have a good amount of experience running on empty.

I am a mom.

Enough said.

However, I also once took a 23-hour flight to Australia, had to essentially stay up all night and then play a game at what would have been 4 a.m. my time.

By the way, I had done enough of those overseas trips over the years to trick me into thinking I had all the tools to deal with being a new mother. Staying up all night? No problem. I had done that before.

Ha! And let’s say that a little louder, with danger music playing in the background. HA!!!

I suppose nothing can prepare you for parenthood. You just have to jump right in with both feet, completely committed to your job, enjoying the highs and asking for help during the lows.

The decision to come out of my softball retirement was much like that.

I began playing when I was 12 years old and living in Trail, British Columbia, population 7,000. I never played with the intention of getting a scholarship, or going anywhere in the sport. I played it because I loved it. By the end of my time at Oklahoma State University I had made my mark as one of the all-time great pitchers there, which was beyond a dream considering two of my childhood idols were pitching alums (Melanie Roche and Michele Smith.) To have my jersey hang on the outfield wall with theirs is still one of my proudest accomplishments.

To top it off, I have been to the Olympics twice. I went with the Canadian Women’s National Softball team to Athens in 2004 and then to Beijing for the 2008 Games. Softball has definitely taken me places.

After losing in the bronze medal game in 2008, I hung up my cleats. I shoved my glove in a corner and made peace with saying goodbye to softball.

At that point, my husband and I were ready to start a family. The summer after the 2008 Olympics, our daughter, Grace, was born. We quickly had two more children — highly energetic boys named Jack and Will. In exactly three years almost to the day, we had three rambunctious, adventurous and carefree children to try to keep up with. I have to be honest, it felt like most days the score was KIDS 1, PARENTS 0.

During that time, I had a few opportunities to play again for my country. The time was just never right. I was invested in my full-time job of being a mother. I wanted to be there for when my kids took their first steps, went to their first day of school, and basically every mundane but seemingly-so-exciting events new moms look forward to. You can keep the cleaning up of diarrhea and vomit, the non-stop crying at night, the throwing of food all over the ground, and the battles with a 2-year-old that I had no chance of winning, but hey, I was happy (sometimes not-so-happy) to take the good with the bad. I loved my life as it was.

In my ball playing days, all I did was live, breathe and dream about the game. At a time when my kids were young, I knew I simply was not ready to go back to that.

One thing that has remained a constant in my life is my love for sports and a healthy and active life. Dave, who played football at Dartmouth, shares the same passion. We met as I was training for the 2008 Games, and I can say we definitely bonded over being active together. I think he even took me out to a park with every ball you can imagine (football, basketball, baseball) and checked to make sure I wasn’t lying about my love for sports.

We joined Windy City CrossFit, which was Chicago’s first functional fitness gym. Eventually, we became minority owners, coaching everyone from fellow athletes to people just starting on their exercise journey.

Though we were thrilled to have our three kids and a thriving gym, we knew something was missing. We wanted to raise our children in a smaller town, like Trail, where I grew up, or Akron, Ohio, where Dave grew up. We made the decision to move to Akron and launch TrAk Athletics. People often ask where we got the name, and we love answering that it is rooted in the names of our hometowns: Trail and Akron.

So back to the story. There I was, a proud mother, a business owner and a coach helping other people find a passion for fitness. My life could have continued down that path forever, and I would have been happy.

Then, the call came to play ball again.

With that opportunity, I realized just how much I missed my sport and being on a team. For the last eight years, I have been raising children. In other words, instead of being on a team, I have essentially been fighting a battle against a team of tiny humans who want to defy my every request and stalwart my efforts to clean the house, get dinner ready or even just use the bathroom in peace.

I missed that team environment. I missed my old life, and I never knew that until I was asked to think about it. When does a person get a chance to blend two very different lives into one? I just couldn’t say no to playing softball again.

Thanks to our newest baby, TrAk (trust me, owning a business can often be like taking care of a newborn!), I don’t think I am any less physically strong, or any less in shape than I was eight years ago.

Pitching shape? That is TBD. I’m throwing as much as this old body will allow. Dave has taken on the role of a catcher again, and yes, he has taken enough off the shins to happily accept some old gear from our catcher Kaleigh Rafter (Dave thanks you Rafter!). He caught me leading up to camp for the Beijing Games and is now back up to speed and looking to be the best bullpen catcher of 2016. Absolutely NONE of this would be possible without him. He is the lifeline and the glue that is holding this evolving puzzle together.

I have so many emotions going into this next chapter of my life: a little bit of fear, a little bit of uncertainty, a lot of “how are we going to’s,” but when it’s all stripped down, it’s mostly excitement.

This is an opportunity for me to get to play a game I have been in love with my whole life. It’s an opportunity to wave to my husband, children and parents in the stands. It’s an opportunity to share my experience with the younger players on the team and to return to sports on the highest possible level.

Lastly, it’s an opportunity for me to recapture something that I always missed, even if I didn’t realize it.

Thank you for following me on this journey.

Lauren

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