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Turning a Lifelong Love into a Career

by Jess Willard

The Drive Behind The Pitch

Many people can look back to their childhood years and think of the first sport they played. Whether it was batting in tee ball or kicking a soccer ball across the field, those memories take us back to a time that was much easier. Senior sports management major Lauren Rhodes has played softball ever since she can remember.  Growing up with a dad who played men’s fastpitch softball helped shape her love for the sport. She said, “My dad put a bat in my hand as soon as I could hold it.” Rhodes believes watching her dad play when she was young gave her an advantage and inspired her drive.

Rhodes is currently a pitcher and infielder for Blackburn’s women’s softball team. One of her favorite parts about playing for the Beavers is the closeness between the players. Senior infielder Abigail Sutton has been on the team with Rhodes for four years. Sutton enjoys playing with her because she believes Rhodes gives her all. “As a third baseman she is fearless. As a pitcher she controls the game. When pitchers are working hard on the mound, fielders want to give everything they have to back up the pitcher and that’s the level of respect I have for Lauren,” she said.

When asked what the most difficult part of softball was, Rhodes said it was the toll on the body. During her sophomore year of high school, she tore her ACL. The injury typically requires nine months to a year of recovery time but she jumped back into the game within five months. She said, “I saw a doctor and he said, ‘Well, you can go get surgery or you can play.’ And I decided to suck it up and just deal with it.” Although the wound caused a drop in her numbers, she persevered. Injury struck again before Rhodes’ third season at Blackburn. “Prior to that season I had been working out, working my hardest to get back in shape. That was at the best I could be. And at the beginning of the season, before we even started games, I tore my labrum,” she said. Rhodes was still on the team, but she couldn’t play. It was one of the biggest challenges she had ever faced.lauren_rhodes_two

Throughout the 2015 season, Rhodes found a way to stay involved with the team: coaching. Sutton felt a lot of respect for her continued support of the team. Rhodes was at every practice and game. “Lauren didn’t have to do what she did while she was injured and I’m not sure how many people would dedicate themselves to a team the way she did,” she said. The experience inspired Rhodes to consider coaching as a career. She had the opportunity to help run practices and see what coaches go through. “It allowed me to see a different side of the game,” she said. “I definitely want to coach and help as many people as I can with the game of softball.”

The spring 2016 season has begun and Rhodes is back on the field. Sutton has noticed her improvements. “Her level of play is like she has never missed a single game. I know I’m excited to have her back,” she said. However, Rhodes doesn’t let her drive stop there. She was also accepted into a graduate program for kinesiology with an emphasis in sports management through the University of Central Missouri.

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