Thursday, April 24, 2014

Two-time Olympic gold medalist leads softball

Each semester Liberty University invites well-known and influential Christians, such as actor Kirk Cameron, Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson and author Jon Acuff, to campus.

practice — Liberty’s new coach knew early in life that God gifted her athletically. Photo credit: Joel Coleman

Practice — Liberty’s new coach knew early in life that God gifted her athletically. Photo credit: Joel Coleman

However, Dot Richardson, a celebrity in the field of softball, will stay at the university for more than just one day, as she was named the new head coach of the Lady Flames softball team in July.

Although Richardson brings with her a long list of accolades, she is most known for being a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Long before Richardson stepped up to the gold-medal podium, however, she knew she had unique talents.

Though she is most known for softball, Richardson also played soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball, track and field and tennis.

“When I was a little girl, I knew that God had given me a gift in athletics,” Richardson said.

Richardson’s ascent through the ranks of amateur sports began at a little-league baseball game when she was 10 years old. Because Title IX — a law prohibiting gender discrimination in federally-funded programs, according to titleix.info — had not yet been passed, Richardson was not playing on the field, but was only breaking in her brother’s catcher’s glove prior to the game. When a coach asked Richardson to play on his little league team, she declined because she would have had to disguise herself as a boy.

According to Richardson, her softball career began to take off at that point. Only 30 minutes after the previous offer, the 10-year-old Richardson accepted a chance to play on a Class-A, fast-pitch softball team, on which the average player was 22 years old.

“I felt that I had the gift of being an athlete and the skills with it and the desire and the passion, but also my parents recognized it, and they said yes for me playing at 10 years of age with a women’s team basically,” Richardson said.

Richardson then became the youngest person to ever play women’s major fast-pitch softball at the age of 13. When she was 15 years old, Richardson was drafted into the Women’s Professional Softball League, but chose to pursue her education instead.

Richardson also participated and won a gold medal in the first-ever softball Pan American Games when she was 17. She has won four additional Pan American Games gold medals and five World Championship gold medals as well.

In college, Richardson led the nation with a .480 batting average as a freshman at Western Illinois University (WIU) before transferring to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where she won the first NCAA softball championship. Additionally, Richardson was a five-time All-American during her collegiate years. The NCAA recognized her three times while

she was at UCLA and after transferring from WIU, she was recognized one year by both the NCAA and the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

Following her college career, Richardson represented Team USA in the 1996 Olympic Games, the first time softball had ever been played at the games. In the first game, Richardson recorded the first-ever American hit, and scored the first run and home run in Olympic history. In the gold medal game, Richardson hit the game-winning home run.

Richardson described the emotions she experienced as her gold-medal team was recognized.

“As we all were standing on the gold-medal podium with Olympic gold medals put around (our) necks for the first time, representing (our) sport in the history of the games, knowing that (we were) in the biggest athletic moment of our lives … I felt so small,” Richardson said. “The only way I can explain it is I felt this overwhelming sense of humility that we were chosen. We were the chosen 15 to represent all who’d ever dreamt of it, all who were deserving before us but never given the opportunity.”

Richardson also won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympic Games and is a 16-time Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA) All-American. She was inducted into the ASA Hall of Fame in 2006.

Richardson credits God for leading her to accomplish the things she did.

“To have the spiritual awareness to say, wait a minute, I don’t have to disguise who I am, none of us do,” Richardson said. “We are born for a certain reason and a purpose and to glorify the Lord through the gifts we’ve been given. And I knew it and I trusted it. I believed it. And as I just started going where he led me, next thing you know, I’m standing on an Olympic gold medal podium, receiving that Olympic gold medal on behalf of the United States of America.”

In addition to all of her accomplishments on the softball field, Richardson has an undergraduate degree in kinesiology from UCLA, a master’s degree in exercise physiology/health. She also earned an M.D. from Louisville and was an orthopedic surgeon.

The softball legend said she believes that softball, as well as the other sports she played, prepared her for her work in medicine. She said that skills such as the ability to concentrate, be mentally tough, set goals and achieve them and work with a team aided her in the field.

“When you get into the health field and realize you can give of yourself to serve others in that way — to help them through injury, through disease … (and) just get them back to a situation where they can be out of pain and pursue their lives in a functional way, to me, I just thought it was awesome,” Richardson explained.

Additionally, Richardson is a motivational speaker associated with the Washington Speakers Bureau. She has also authored two books, entitiled “Go For It! A Conversation About Being You!” and “Living The Dream: The Dot Richardson Story.”

Richardson has also used her talents in the field of softball as the National Training Center softball director. She currently serves as board chair for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes softball ministry as well.

As Liberty’s new head coach, Richardson said she hopes to raise awareness for the team around campus and in the community. She will also utilize her experience to accomplish her ultimate goal for the Lady Flames — to shape physically, mentally and spiritually tough players and help them to reach their full potential both on and off the field — and looks to continue to glorify God in softball.

“When you have a university from the top level — the chancellor — down who is committed to excellence for (God’s) glory … there’s no way that you’re not gonna win,” Richardson said. “The victory is not by wins and losses, but it’s about how much recognition we can give to the Lord by what we do, and sports is a great way to do that.”

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