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Another Year Brings New Challenges, But Olympic Payoff Is Worth It For Softball Star Cat Osterman

By Cat Osterman | July 23, 2020, 12:15 a.m. (ET)

Softball player Cat Osterman poses at a Team USA photoshoot in 2019. 

 

In 2004, at my Olympic debut in Athens, one moment supersedes the rest.

It was the top of the seventh inning of the gold-medal game. We were up 5-1 on Australia, with one out to go.

Those of us in the dugout were holding hands in anticipation. Then we realized we were too close together to jump over the railing. So we quickly spread out just before the final out was made, and then jumped directly on cue.

Indescribable elation and joy.

The build-up of that last out — along with all the ups and downs and the 10+ hour bus rides we had endured — was all worth it.

It still remains the best moment I’ve ever experienced in sports. I don’t think anything can top winning an Olympic gold medal.

Today is bittersweet, marking one year again to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2021. Our team would like to be over there in Tokyo already, but obviously everyone’s safety and health is the top priority. It’s not under our control, so we just have to take it day by day. That potential indescribable feeling can wait.

Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was fairly easy for me to commit to working out from home and to go pitch in my driveway or a private facility I have access to. But as the pandemic has continued it’s become harder, especially the uncertainty of when it will end.

That was really starting to take a toll on me. It’s no secret I’m older, you know. I retired in 2015, but returned to the diamond in January of 2019.

It still remains the best moment I’ve ever experienced in sports. I don’t think anything can top winning an Olympic gold medal.

I had grown up on Team USA, having joined the USA Softball national team program in 2001 as a 18-year-old. It was my home for 10 years.

So at the end of 2017, when one of my best friends and Olympic teammates, Kelly Kretschman, approached me and said: “You know you want to play again,” the wheels began to turn.

“Maybe,” I replied. “But I don’t want to have to give up my coaching job.”

Being the loyal friend she is, and having worked at Texas State with me two years before, Kelly approached my boss at the school, Ricci Woodard, and let her know that she thought I still wanted to play, but I wouldn’t broach the issue.

Before I knew it, on the way home from a recruiting trip, my boss said, “If you want to try and play in the Olympics again, we’ll figure out how to make it work.”

That was the push I needed. I made phone call to family, friends and USA Softball. I thought I could pitch well enough to help Team USA compete for another gold medal.

Coming out of retirement, I trained enough where I could throw in the bullpen just fine. But it was game situations or hitters standing in — that competitive element — that I needed more of. I had been off the field for over three years. While the competitive fire is the same, it’s not like riding a bike where you just jump back on and all of a sudden remember how to handle everything.

Because of this, at first I looked at the postponement of the Games as another year to train; more time to get ready. Hopefully more game situations. USA Softball also provided some relief by announcing the Olympic team for 2020 will remain in place for 2021.

But to be honest, lately, it’s been tough.

Some days 12 months look like a mountain. If I take too many days off now, it’s harder to get going again than I was younger, so I try not to take too many breaks. When you have a goal or a dream, the long breaks can wait.

I know what the next three months will look like — some of us on the national team have taken up an opportunity with a pro endeavor called Athletes Unlimited stateside — but after that, because of COVID-19, that’s about all I know.

The unpredictability of it is keeping me on my toes.

For now, as we continue to stay close to home, I’ll keep walking my neighborhood each week and keep on tending to my new hobby in the backyard. We’ve constructed two new raised garden beds during quarantine — my squash and zucchini have already produced and died off, but we’ve still got some jalapeño peppers, bell peppers and tomato plants going.

And when it’s finally time to board the plane for Tokyo, I’ll look over at my teammates, most of whom are making their Olympic debuts, and tell them to soak it all in. To stop and smell the roses (or jalapeño peppers, in my case). To recollect themselves. To let themselves play loosely in an environment they’ve been dreaming so much to become a part of, with the entire world watching.

That’s the moment my Olympic career will come full circle, even if it’s now in 2021.

Cat Osterman

Pitcher Cat Osterman won gold and silver medals with the U.S. softball team in 2004 and 2008, and she’s been named to Team USA again for the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where softball returns to the Games following a 13-year absence.

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Cat Osterman