A day for champions

Monday was a dream.

Prior to the first pitch of yesterday's Women's College World Series finals, many of our sport's current and former champions came together for the inaugural Champions Festival in Oklahoma City.

Picture softball legends like Leah O'Brien-Amico, Laura Berg, Jennie Finch and Michele Smith assembled in the same room as Hall of Fame coaches Sandy Fischer and Judi Garman at the site of the college game's championship. The Festival grew out of the idea former UCLA head coach Sue Enquist had to celebrate the Olympians in our sport. It eventually expanded to include champions at all levels of the game coming together to share our common experiences with future champions, their parents and their coaches.

Our No. 1 goal was to show these amazing young girls that there are many unique paths to success. By sharing our experiences we provided a playbook to help them navigate their own journeys to success.

I was able to join the Champions Festival in between interviews and video shoots for ESPN and the Women's College World Series coverage and it was amazing. Where else can you have Olympians, Hall of Fame coaches and the best heroes from our college game all in one room?

Future champion little girls, along with their parents and coaches, were able to interact and talk with the best in the game of softball. Topics like succeeding in the game, nutrition and mental toughness were covered in morning roundtable discussions. Every "Champion" (Olympians, HOF coach, National Pro Fastpitch players) was placed at a table with future champions. Real issues were discussed. The young girls were able to ask the questions most relevant to them, so they could create their own unique blueprint for success.

Imagine a young girl getting to ask three-time Olympian Crystl Bustos how she hits with two strikes in one table discussion, then NPF and Canadian Olympian Caitlin Lever how she feels about the pressures of diet and body image for women in another and finally asking a Hall of Fame Division I softball coach Cindy Bristow about the necessary tools to earn a college scholarship. This all happened in the span of 30 minutes at the Festival.

Just listening to all those in the room, I found myself jotting down notes and using the advice to further my own life as a champion. It was clear the impact -- for everyone -- was going to extend far beyond the softball field. One 13-year-old softball player from Colorado Springs, Colo., said, "The biggest tool I learned to be a champion was to stay positive, not just with my hitting, but with how I see myself in the mirror." My smile was the biggest it had been all day when I heard that.

To know future champions were taking away the bigger picture of success, that of feeling confident and being yourself -- not what anyone else is telling you to be -- was the ultimate goal. They were able to hear from so many different ages, personalities and personal stories to realize every path to being a champion is unique. It motivated them to stand out, be themselves and not always try to fit in.

With softball still fighting every day for reinstatement in the Olympics and our pro league stronger than it has ever been, we are excited to see every champion, future and current, come together and share passions, excitement and knowledge to help further our sport.

It was an honor to just be in the room and know a blueprint for a champion was being drawn by hundreds of young girls the moment we all left the room.

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