“There is a book that I must write, and there is a book that I must publish.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
I wanted to share with all of you the introduction of my book Still Standing. If I can be honest, it has taken me longer than I ever anticipated to finish this book for a couple of reasons. The first being emotional vulnerability. Not only do I have to go back into that emotional space of darkness in order to write authentically, but I also have to rely on my healing journey in order to bring myself out of that darkness. So, there are times where I will sit in front of this laptop and cry, other times I will procrastinate, and even others I will feel my inner self resisting what I know I am called to do. The other reason is the struggle of how to appropriately express my truth. Elizabeth Gilbert said the other day, “There is a book that I must write and there is the book I must publish.” I am finding so much healing in writing the words to the book I must write. Within that book, there is healing and truth in those dark crevices of my spirit that I was not aware of.
It is my hope that you will embark on this journey with me through prayer and encouragement because I need it. I feed from the spiritual rhythms of this world and even if I sell zero books, I know that I am called to write my story of healing in this book titled Still Standing. I hope that you enjoy this introduction to my book and can feel the beginning of my healing from brokenness to freedom.
I am a typical Type A personality if there ever was one. Research identifies the traits of type A personality in many categories, which includes: rude, impatient, workaholics, and having a very competitive nature. The latter two are a direct reflection of my perception of life. When I was a little girl, I had visions and dreams of what I hoped my life would look like. In order to make those dreams come to fruition, I was willing to make the necessary sacrifice in order to achieve them. Within those sacrifices were: a missed prom, missed social events, and the frustrations of friendships and relationships. Although it hurt me to miss out, the pursuit of my goals weighed far heavier than deviations from my plan. I was a planner, I got it honestly from my mother, who was the epitome of a planner. I remember that planner lying on the kitchen counter day and night. Our family of four was color coded to help her better navigate through the day. My dad was orange, I was blue, my sister was yellow and my mom was green. I do remember that I did not see green on the calendar very often which meant there was little time for my mom to have for herself. Although I know that she enjoyed taking care of our family, I do also know that she longed for some time to herself. But even at an early age, she showed me what it meant to sacrifice for oneself in order to make others happy.
Following in my mothers footsteps I, too, became attached to the list. Whether that list was in my head and I was mentally checking things off the list one at a time, or physically on a piece of paper, it did not matter. Either way, I knew that each step I was checking off, was getting me closer to fulfilling my goals whether they were short-term in preparing for a test, or long term steps in fulfilling my dreams of becoming an Olympic softball player.
I have learned that a positive of being Type A is that I am very focused and goal-oriented. If I am presented with a task, I will figure out the steps to ensure that it gets done. For me, the downfall is that it never occurs to me that there could possibly be more than one way to get the task done. I become so fixated on one specific way that it becomes difficult for me to envision any other route. I would much rather frustrate myself trying to figure it out the way that I envisioned rather than to re-route my train of thought in a different direction.
At a young age, I was intrigued by people in general. I loved to sit and people watch, paying attention to the way people moved, how they reacted, and what they said. Even though watching people I did not know was intriguing, I found the most value in watching the one man who taught me the most-my dad. I spent many afternoons watching my dad with his basketball team in the hot Bealle Gym at Thomas J. Rusk in Nacogdoches, Texas. In the hot Texas summers temperatures would easily climb to over one hundred degrees not including the humidity. All doors of the gym would be open and you could hear the loud roar of the two box fans humming from each end. It was within those times of watching him coach that I truly understood what he believed in, and it was very apparent to me , even at a young age, that it was discipline and hard work. He pushed his boys to be the very best they could, he demanded attention to detail in every drill and he expected execution of each drill with maximum effort. And no matter how hard he pushed them he always found a way to edify them at the end of every practice. It was through watching my dad that I learned the discipline and the hard work needed to continue the everyday drive of what it took to become a great athlete. It was his voice that I heard when I wanted to bend over between sprints. It was his voice that I heard when I was trying to find the energy to make it up the stadium stairs at Dragon Stadium. Even though he was not physically with me, his teachings of excellence with his own players was what gave me the extra push I needed when I was training.
From my mom, I learned how to multi-task. She was the master of handling several tasks at once. She not only had to juggle all of the details of work she also had to juggle our families’ schedule from day to day. She found the strength, even though she was overwhelmed, to put one foot in front of the other no matter what was going on. It was through observing my mom, that I learned to handle the uncertainties of life, and by watching her juggle many things she fostered my ability to dream.
With each practice I gained more courage to go for my dreams. I started showing up early and staying late to perfect my craft of playing softball at the highest level. During high school, we made a decision to step outside of playing locally and expand more into the city of Houston, Texas for more competition. My parents saw that I was dedicated to succeed and felt that I needed the exposure of greater competition to see how I matched up. My first opportunity came from the Cobras out of Houston Texas. It was during this time, playing amongst other athletes outside of my local area, that I really got to see how my athletic ability matched up. I would be lying (yes mother I used the word-lying), if I said I wasn’t intimidated. I had been told that I was an exceptional athlete, but I was not sure how I would match up against “city girls.” Ready or not, here was the opportunity for me to see if I could really do it. Although it was not immediate, Lord knows I had my fair share of failures, but playing for the Cobras that one summer only increased my drive to want better for myself, and I finished that summer really believing “I CAN DO THIS.”
In my sophomore year of high school, I had the privilege of trying out for another team out of Katy, Texas called the Katy Cruisers. I did not know much about them except that they were tabbed as being one of the best teams, so I knew that was exactly the challenge I desired. Once I made the team, I, along with a former friend and teammate, would travel the three hours to and from, every Sunday to Katy, Texas to have a five hour practice. My mom and my former teammates mom would alternate weekends to make sure we were at practice every week. Each weekend I practiced and competed, I gained more confidence in knowing that I could play with the best.
I will remember the summer of 1999 as one of those magical moments in my life. It was the summer of my junior year in high school and I was competing in the Colorado tournament. Up until then, I would receive handwritten letters from college coaches from all over the country. It became something that I looked forward to every afternoon when I checked the mail. I would see letters from University of Florida, Texas A&M University, University of Oklahoma just to name a few. I remember my mom saying, “I knew she was good, but I didn’t know she was that good!” Because of all the letters from so many different states, my mom created a Styrofoam board of the United States and put a pin in each state that I received a letter from. Initially, I thought it was cheesy, but after a while it was pretty neat to see all the places that were interested in me.
In the summer of 1999, after we finished playing our last game in Colorado, I experienced colleges interest in me in a completely different way. Once I gathered all of my equipment from the dugout, I headed out to connect with my parents, but I was stopped by a long line of coaches. To be honest, I was initially annoyed, (my Type A personality came out) because I was exhausted and ready to go home. But to my surprise, the cluster of coaches were all for me! To this day, I will never forget that incredible experience. As I looked up, I realized that all the coaches standing along the fence with their pens and pads were all waiting to talk to me! What an incredible experience! I will never forget who was at the front of the line and it just happened to be Donna Pappa from the University of North Carolina! I realized a few things in that moment. 1. All of my hard work had paid off and 2. I realized the entire week that those slew of coaches were following our team everywhere, known as “khaki tacky,” was because they liked the way I played.
All of my hard work reached new heights when I received a full athletic scholarship to Mississippi State University as an outfielder. It is important for me to mention my position because everyone told me there was no way that I would be able to get a full scholarship as outfielder. In their minds, all the full scholarships belonged to pitchers. But, when that voice of doubt crept in while I was training, I would push that much harder. I did not know it then, but that was just the beginning of me overcoming the voice of “YOU CAN’T.” I had the courage even at my young age to stay true to myself. I knew I did not have the desire to pitch in college and my true passion was to become a great outfielder. I was not willing to advertise myself as anything different.
While at Mississippi State, I carried with me the intangibles that my parents instilled in me at an early age. I continued to work hard outside of the required practice hours. I knew that if I stayed within the confines of the required practice times that I would become average. While at college, I had to rise to another level with my athletic ability. I was competing in the Southeastern Conference, one of the most competetive conferences in the country, along with the Big 12, and Pac 10 at the time. In the beginning, it was very difficult to find my way. I was struggling with the balance of being a college athlete, school work, meetings, and community service.
Although my first two years of college were difficult for me, it was in my junior year that I realized I had the opportunity of becoming closer to my dream of playing for the Olympic team. It was during my junior year of college that I received a formal invitation to try out for Team USA. It was a dream come true! But again, I had to overcome all of the people who told me, “it was unlikely that someone who was invited their first year would ever make a team.” I’m so glad that, yet again, I had the courage to believe beyond the doubt of those who tried to discourage me because not only did I get invited, but I was chosen to compete for the USA-Elite softball team the summer of 2003. I knew that it was a dream come true, but I did not fully comprehend it all until I put the red, white, and blue uniform on for the first time. I got chills all over my body and I had to stop the tears from rolling down my eyes when I ran onto the softball field representing something way bigger than myself. I was competing for and representing my country. It literally was a dream come true.
After graduating from Mississippi State University in 2004, there was another platform that I was able to play on at the professional level. I was the first overall pick of the NPF draft to the Akron Racers out of Akron, Ohio. When I received the phone call to inform me of my first overall pick, I was shocked! Here I was again, in awe of how other people saw me as an athlete. I knew that I worked hard, but I was so focused on becoming better than I was yesterday that I did not realize the possibilities of my future. My rookie year, I earned the MVP of the league, the batting champion of the league, and our team won the championship on a home run, by myself, over left field fence. It was a moment that I will always remember, it was an inside change-up against Jennie Finch, one of the best pitchers in the country. I was ecstatic and proud of all the hard work our entire team had put into that year.
Although I had a very successful playing career, full of workouts where I showed up early and stayed late, sacrifices and hard work, there was one particular area in my life that did not follow a particular path. There were no extra practices that I could go to or watch that could prepare me for relationships, love and marriage. No matter how hard I tired, or how much I planned, it did not always warrant the outcome that I wanted. You see, when I wanted to get faster, I knew the ladder drills and sprinting drills I needed to do in order to engage my fast twitch muscles. If I needed to increase power in my swing, I knew that I had to increase the weight on my squats to become more explosive. If I needed to work on a particular pitch, I would practice on the tee in order to perfect the swing. But in the area of love, there were no extra reps to guarantee the results hoped for. Although this may seem silly, from my perspective, I was used to doing commercials, signing autographs, and having tons of fans screaming my name, “Iyhia…Iyhia..Iyhia,” as I walked to the batters’ box.
To be honest, I was not good at relationships. I really was not. I treated it as another routine, another daily schedule that I had to accomplish each day. Not because I was cold-hearted, but because I just did not know any other way. So, when I found myself in the latter part of my professional playing career, in 2008 in love and ready for marriage, I did not know how to juggle the demands of being a professional athlete as well as being devoted to a serious relationship. All I knew was how to prepare to be a great athlete, but I also wanted to learn how to become a good girlfriend, fiance and one day wife. In the area of love, I learned that there is no practice plan that could ever predict the outcome and sometimes no matter how hard you work there is no guarantee that the vision that you foresee will manifest itself in reality.
When I saw myself faced with the biggest platform that I was not prepared for, I realized that I was in a game that I had no idea how to win. Going through my divorce was more pressure than trying to get a base hit in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and two outs. It hurt worse than losing a ballgame in the last inning, and more lonely than making a costly error to lose the ballgame. I was standing on the field with no equipment and no rule book to the “game.”
*It is my hope that you enjoyed the intro to my book. This is a sneak peak into my heart as I was embarking on a “game” I was unfamiliar with. I look forward to sharing more with you as the journey continues. I love you all.
#REBORN #RENEWED #RECOLORED