Mar 24, 2020
- Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.
Sunday night wasn’t the first time Danielle Lawrie-Locke couldn’t keep up with the messages flooding her phone. It happened after the births of daughters Madison and Audrey. It was similar last September after Lawrie-Locke’s one-hitter helped Canada qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
But there haven’t been many moments quite like it. Then again, in the wake of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s announcing its athletes would not attend the Tokyo Olympics unless the event were postponed until 2021 to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, much of life feels unprecedented.
So the messages flooded in after the news that Lawrie-Locke and her teammates on the Canadian softball team learned only about 10 minutes before the rest of the world. Some of the messages offered condolences on an opportunity lost, others congratulations on the journey already completed just to have a shot at her second Olympics, 12 years after her first.
None of them offered any answers. Nobody has those. Even if Canada’s unilateral decision was the first act in a sequence that led to the International Olympic Committee’s postponing the Games until 2021, that won’t be a resolution for the thousands of athletes who had already qualified and the thousands more who hoped to qualify. For someone like Lawrie-Locke, postponement is only the beginning of figuring out what comes next. She and the rest of the Canadians just got a head start.
The Olympics will likely go on — eventually — but will Lawrie-Locke?
“I find myself trying to not think about it much right now because we just don’t have an answer to what the plan is,” the pitcher said Monday. “But it definitely kept me up last night thinking about it, that’s for sure.”
One of the greatest players in the history of college softball, a two-time national player of the year who led the University of Washington to its lone national championship in 2009, Lawrie-Locke came out of retirement in 2017 after softball was restored to the Olympic program for 2020. She was only 21 when she pitched in the 2008 Olympics, when Canada’s podium hopes vanished in a medal-round loss against Australia. She wanted another chance at winning a medal. After the birth of her daughters, she wanted to show people — including herself — that motherhood could be the most important thing in her life without being the only thing.
“This is why I love being back doing something competitive — because it’s helping people sometimes that put themselves on the back burner,” Lawrie-Locke said. “We as moms do that all the time. For me, it’s so key to let them know that you can put yourself first. You can pick a big, hefty goal. It doesn’t have to be the Olympics. It can be whatever it is you want to choose and allow for yourself to strive and do that and not feel guilt for not being with your kids 24/7.”
And darned if she didn’t do it. Lawrie-Locke’s intensity is legendary in the softball world, her glare from the circle Hall of Fame worthy in its own right. That is the same sense of purpose she brought to her comeback, and the results prove the success. She went 5-1 with a 0.45 ERA in the 2018 WBSC World Championship, as Canada earned a bronze medal. She pitched that one-hitter in the clincher for Olympic qualification on home soil last fall.
She gave herself until 2020 to again be among the best in the world, and she accomplished it.
Except 2020 is now 2021. And in a sport that offers no riches, that gets complicated when you’re about to turn 33 and have a family and a burgeoning career as a television broadcaster.
“To be so thankful to have done this the last 2½ years and be where I’m at and feel like I’ve gotten better — I’m grateful for that,” Lawrie-Locke said before the official postponement. “But if it gets postponed another year, and I make the decision not to do it because it will just be too hard, how will I look back at that in 10 or 12 years?”
First and foremost let’s not forget how STRONG I really am ok? I understand this is a weird ass time, Team Canada taking a stand saying no Olympics unless they are postponed.. * * * You should all know ▶️ IM GOING TO BE OK! I’m a mom first, and a dam good one, I won’t let something like this steer me off track…. here are a couple things I do know * * * I’m going to continue to spread positivity, love, health, until this virus is subsided. It will be then that I make a decision on my next steps moving forward! I appreciate my PEOPLE, and the support they continue to give me! Without them, I’m nothing! My teammates, especially @jenn_salling & @kaleighrafter5 for a friendship of pure honesty, love & respect ✊ * * * One day at a time, and in the words of Bob Marley ” Every little thing, is gonna be alright”
A post shared by Danielle Lawrie (@daniellelawrie15) on
She knows she would be devastated if the team went to the Olympics and she could only watch from home as they won the medal that she worked alongside them for so long to win. She thinks about the guilt she might feel should Canada go without her and fall short of a medal that now seems possible with a talented, veteran roster.
“I feel like I can’t win unless I just make the decision that I am going to do it,” Lawrie-Locke said. “Selfishly, with kids, I can’t [automatically] do that. I just can’t. My husband has been my biggest supporter, but he’s also had to do all the grunt work.”
She believes Drew Locke, her husband, will support her no matter what. But she is realistic. The juggling act puts more stress on the marriage. It can’t help but do so. They found a rhythm that made it work the past two-plus years. They were fortunate, able to make the budget work to hire an au pair so that it wasn’t just Drew when Danielle was away for weeks at a time or needed to do evening bullpen work. They recently extended the au pair another six months. That was all they needed to get through the Olympics.
“We were hunky-dory, we were closing this chapter of my life,” Lawrie-Locke said. “Right now, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. No. 1, we just don’t know what the heck is going on.
“And No. 2, I have to think about stuff even more than other people that make a decision to potentially do this until the Olympics actually take place. I can’t make a commitment to anything right now. It would be so selfish of me to do that because I don’t know how my family is going to be. It’s so many things outside of just playing the game.”
Among the messages blowing up her phone Sunday was one from Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy, briefly an assistant coach for Canada more than a decade ago and whose Crimson Tide teams were among Lawrie-Locke’s competition. He didn’t have any answers, either, he just wanted to reach out to her and teammate Lauren Bay-Regula, another former Olympian, pitcher and mom, to let them know he understood.
“I felt really bad for both of those ladies, because they’re just incredible athletes, incredible people,” Murphy said. “Basically, both of them put their families and their lives on hold for this one last shot at the Olympic Games.”
Now it is that shot that is on hold.
Lawrie-Locke works out at home in Seattle, using an exercise bike and a treadmill in the garage — like a lot of people at the moment, Olympian or otherwise. Or she goes on a run, a rare venture outside in a city among the hardest hit by the pandemic. She doesn’t have much access to pitching. There isn’t enough room at home. That is not a problem in the short term. As she puts it, of all the work already put in over the winter, “I’ve been putting hay in the barn.”
And now, she knows she doesn’t have to worry about pitching in July.
Canada was supposed to gather this week in California for a training camp and exhibitions against some NCAA teams. They were going to Japan at the end of April and scheduled to play in the Tokyo Dome. The final roster would have been announced soon thereafter, followed by games for the Canadian entry in National Pro Fastpitch and the annual Canada Cup tournament in early July.
But all of that exists only in a parallel world at this point, one untouched by the virus. In this world, the knowledge that she isn’t going to the Olympics this summer isn’t a resolution, it’s where the question begins.
“Once we have a sturdy [answer], I can figure out what the hell I’m going to do,” Lawrie-Locke said. “Because right now, my head is spinning. But I’m not stressed about it, because with what’s going on in the world, I’m exactly where I need to be. I’m home, I’m with my family, and my family is healthy.”