“Have you faced this pitcher before?” my Coach whispered to me as I prepared for what would be the last at bat of my collegiate softball career. In previous moments, I probably would have answered respectfully and began to grind the gears of my over thinking brain. But this moment was different. I do not remember anything following that question. I did not care who the pitcher was, if I’d faced her before, or how the whole season had gone. What mattered most is what I did with that moment. My last at bat is the finale of my student-athlete experience.The moments while I was on deck and on first base after a textbook slap-hit (which they called an error…… but let's be real here) constantly replay in my head. The actual at bat, type of pitch, nor feel of the hit doesn't resonate at all. The emotions leading up to that moment emerge from underlying obstacles I faced in the duration of my Division I career.
"After an unattractive, disappointing freshman and sophomore year, thanks to a new coaching staff, a healthy body and a more importantly new mindset, I felt like I was finally able to live the dream I imagined as a little girl."
February 22, 2015, at the University of South Alabama, was the day that broke my hit streak. I was in the best shape of my life, running 2.53 sprint home-first sprint, lead-off hitter, center fielder and captain of the JU Softball team. Given the first two seasons of my career, this was an accomplishment alone. After an unattractive, disappointing freshman and sophomore year, thanks to a new coaching staff, a healthy body and more importantly a new mindset, I was able to feel like I was finally able to live the dream I imagined as a little girl. It was fun to play the game again and I was on a multi-game hit streak which would soon come to end.
The top of the seventh, against the home South Alabama Jaguars would pose one of the most pressured scenarios in softball (the scoot up in your seat close to the TV just to cover your eyes type situation), I find myself stepping into the box with a tied game, bases loaded, and two outs. Right as I proceed to step in the box, the Jags’ coach summons their powerhouse pitcher into the circle. As she threw her 5 warm-up pitches (she was bringing the heat that night) my heart was beat boxing as I looked at all the ducks on the pond (bases load, Coach E taught me that one! ). I had hit the ball in the infield and collided with the 1st baseman attempting to catch the wild throw. Instantaneously, I was on the ground with an agonizing pain in my lower back/pelvic area. 16 games into my breakout season…and its over in a flash.
It was only in the next few days I began to realize how severe my injuries were as I found it very difficult to walk and do day-to-day activities. My doctor’s visit only added more pain. The x-rays revealed that I had broken my tailbone and strained my SI joint. I had dealt with injuries before but I never had to miss a game in my entire career. Dangerous thoughts snuck in rapidly: “what I am I going to do?”, “I can suck it up”, “The team doesn’t need me anymore, I’m worthless." By Week 1, the scariest thought was born. “Who Am I?”
"How do I lead from the sidelines? Do I even have a voice or a right to speak up anymore? It was a different world."
"Sable, the softball player" had always been my identity. Starting as early as 8 years old, my vacations, diet, schedules and even my college institution was related to the game of softball. At the blink of an eye, the game was gone. Sitting in the dugout taking score, squeezing my stress ball and figuring out how to “just support” my teammates was harder than any pressure situation like the one I faced in Alabama. How do I lead from the sidelines? Do I even have a voice or a right to speak up anymore? It was a different world.
"My injury was a catalyst to many internal battles that were exposed throughout my healing process. I got into a relationship to distract me, I developed extreme body image issues, and lost the love of the game in the process."
Although I worked tirelessly with my physical therapist three times a week for the rest of the season, I was not able to return that spring season. I did not know who I was. My injury was a catalyst to many internal battles that were exposed throughout my healing process. I got into a relationship to distract me, I developed extreme body image issues, and lost the love of the game in the process.
…but as soon as my foot hit the tile floor of my room in the morning, discouragement ran up through my left leg all the way up to my mid spine.
Summer 2015 was a time of healing. Externally and Internally I worked tirelessly to get back to the 2.5 running-ESPN catching-game loving Sable Lee. I was slowly getting better, faster and stronger but my internal battles (body image and identity) continued to follow me into late summer. As senior year began, I was excited to put on a pair of cleats and step foot in the freshly cut, green dream home…center field. I was having fun, anxious to get started, however, it wasn't the same. It was difficult to get back into softball shape and on top of that my back still hindered my full ability to play the game. Unfortunately, my back was not cooperating and I began to take steps backwards. It was one of the most frustrating realities. I woke everyday with the desire to get better, stronger, and healthier but as soon as my foot hit the tile floor of my room in the morning, discouragement ran up through my left leg all the way up to my mid spine. Because I was declining, the coaching staff decided to restrict my activities once again. All the hard work and sacrifice over the spring and summer felt like it was a waste and I began to feel bad for myself while losing all motivation to get back into the game. I would wake up at 6:00am and sneak a 3 mile campus run in , going against the coach’s request for me not to train at all. I was going crazy for lack of better terms.
Winter off season flew by, as soon as you know it, JU Softball was reporting back to campus to start preseason in January. You would think that I would be dying to get to opening day, right? I wasn’t. I did not have a fire in my heart at all. Between my injury still lurking, “faking it until I made it”, and being frustrated that I felt this way I was extremely lost inside. One practice in particular, I was actually excited to hit BP but during one of my swings it felt like someone put the tightest lock on my pelvic area.
My back was locked up temporarily, but my mind was in shackles for the long run. I let this discouraging episode dictate forthcoming moments.
The weeks following this incident were internally crippling to say the least. While I was pressing to fake my passion, be a perfect leader, while pursuing my desire to get accepted into the DeVos Sport Business Graduate Program I found myself in the lowest of the lows. I was not performing the way the team needed, I was not excited about positive opportunities, and was not very pleasant to be around at times.
“Sable, where was your leadership today? We needed you.”
“Sable, where was your leadership today? We needed you.” my Coach expressed as we concluded a sub-par practice. The next thing I know, I am in the pitch black dugout bathroom crying so hard that I produced the loudest silent cry ever in my life. No one knew the amount of pain, frustration, and sorrow in that cry of desperation. Early that day I had informed my coach of the passing of my grandmother. I reassured her that I was ok as I proceeded to fulfill my regular daily responsibilities. I could not believe that she would still demand 100% of presence, passion, and leadership on a day where my main focus was to just “get through." I cried and cried for a very long time and realized that I had been putting myself on a superhuman pedestal. Mr. Johnny, my pastor, reminded me that I was human, and even Jesus wept.
Fast forwarding to the on-deck circle at the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. My coach leaned in and asked me “Have you faced this pitcher before?” prior to the last at-bat of my career. Instead of giving an “overly thoughtful” response, I simply answered “nope." My grandmother’s passing was the catalyst that lead me to realize the lesson that God was teaching me the whole time. In that moment, the game did not care what the x-ray said, the pity I felt for myself in the fall, how much my teammates looked to me as a leader, nor did it take into account the potential sorrow I could face after the conclusion of the game. The only thing the game cared about is how I handled that moment in time. When you step in the box, you make a choice. You either own it or the moment owns you.
On one of the hardest days of my life, my coach still expected my focus and leadership at 100%. Some may look at this moment as a negative, but I will always remember this day as one of the most pivotal growing points in my leadership.
After returning from my Grandmother's homegoing, my passion for the game, love for my teammates, and freedom flourished once again. My coach's unconditional investment in me pushed me to not only be a better leader but to find myself in a crowded time of my life.
The moral of the story is that the pitch is coming at you regardless of your circumstance. Being honest with your emotions, passions, and relationship with God will allow you to take life pitch by pitch. Sometimes it is the exact pitch you are looking for and sometimes it is the best curve ball you have ever seen regardless, you have to be able to recognize the pitch and be disciplined enough to sit back and square up the ball.
As God calls me to lead in many different facets of my life, I will strive to embody the no-excuses, relentless attitude that regardless of what the circumstance are, pitches will come at you no matter what, so take it life where its pitched!
Sable A. Lee
My Lord and Savior for blessing me with strength to share this with you
My family for being the best safety net I could ever ask for
My teammates for surrounding me with love, friendships and many laughs
My coaches. Every single one of them for being a vital part of who I am today
Jack Burns! For constantly encouraging me to share my voice. Your friendship, accountability, and compassion for helping others will be one that I cherish for a lifetime.
Jacksonville University. You are the BEST school in the country! I am so grateful to represent JU and the softball program for the rest of my life. GO PHINS!