University of Alabama's catcher Molly Fichtner is someone whose story needs to be told for a number of reasons. You may be interested in hearing about a young woman who has been working at her sport since childhood, others will want to know how a type 1 diabetic balances playing at the very top of a grueling hot weather sport with the insulin and carbohydrates that are required for her to live. I think that many who read this will be impressed at how Molly left UT-San Antonio so that she could chase a dream.
Though these are all good reasons to Interview Molly, none are why I tracked her down. I wanted to speak with Molly because she possess a will to succeed that is not often seen.
Molly began her journey to the 2014 NCAA Woman's College World Series by playing Little League baseball with the boys and she said that she, "threw a fit" when her parents told her that she needed to switch to softball. Seems like her parents knew what they were talking about...
Molly really dove headfirst into softball when she was 12 years old. At that time she was playing on an 18U team (18 years old and under) and found herself asking her dad to hit her ground balls even after she would arrived home from day-long summer practices, "that's when my parents began to understand how much I wanted it." Molly continued to work hard into high school. "I think I started peaking between my freshman and sophomore year and I thought, hey I could play in college." She hit the gym, adding strength to her 5' 2" frame and power to her swing, "I like being the underdog, I am 5' 2" but my goal was to play like I was six feet tall".
The winter after Molly first played with the older girls, at age 12, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during her Christmas break, Molly lost over 10 pounds in a month and experienced other tell-tale signs of type I diabetes; like frequent urination, an insatiable thirst and generally feeling terrible. Those symptoms prompted Molly's grandmother (a type 2 diabetic) to suggest that the family use her blood glucose meter on Molly. That's the first time anyone would strike a hole in Molly's finger to test her blood, her blood sugar was so high on Christmas Day that her grandmother's meter couldn't offer a number, it only said, "HI."
Today Molly has a plan for handling every aspect of her type 1 diabetes in her life and when she plays softball. Her trainers test her blood sugar every 30 minutes during games and practices. She told me that regimen works the best for her but noted that during particularly intense games her adrenaline can spike, sending her blood glucose value climbing. She also knows that her blood sugar tends to get low after night games and so she makes adjustments to her food and insulin that help avoid them. Type 1 diabetes is certainly a challenge, it's impact on the body can not be denied but, Molly doesn't let that get in her way in her daily life and it didn't stop her from becoming UT-San Antonio's catcher.
In two years at UT-San Antonio Molly started in over 100 games, she was receiving accolades and having success, "but I didn't feel like I was being pushed to see how far I could actually go." Her parents sat Molly down and asked if she wanted to transfer. "It wasn't about the playing, it wasn't about anything (softball related), it was about having the experience."
What Molly told me next is where her story lies.
"When I arrived at Alabama I didn't even know if I was going to play and it didn't matter to me." What Molly wanted was a chance to push herself, she wanted to be surrounded by the best to see if she could measure up, to have the opportunity to learn from the best; she wanted more and somehow at the age of twenty had the courage to give up a sure thing to get the chance to breath rarified air. I tried to tell Molly that I thought that what she did was incredibly brave but I don't think that she saw it that way and after talking to her for a little longer, I started to see why. I think Molly just didn't want to stop growing. What I saw initially as bravery, I soon began to think of as perspective. I told Molly that many of the people that I've met who have type I diabetes seem to have a very clear perspective on life and that I thought that clarity comes partially from living with a chronic illness.
During her freshman year at UT-San Antonio Molly played in a tournament against the Crimson Tide. "I got to see them firsthand. I looked at the players; the camaraderie... there was something different about the program. I was catching so I could hear them in their dugout." That day Molly went 2 for 2 with two home runs and she threw out one of Alabama's fastest runners trying to steal. She thinks that her performance in that game helped her when she called Coach Murphy to inquire about playing for the Crimson Tide.
Before Molly could make the call to Tuscaloosa, she had to ask UT-San Antonio to release her because NCAA rules prohibit players and schools from talking about such things while they are signed with another institution. She had to be released from the UTSA Softball Program and cleared by the NCAA prior to contacting Coach Murphy.
You can see why I thought Molly was brave; she told me that she was scared when she asked for her release, "They pulled my scholarship right away... I had no where to go." Molly gave up a full scholarship and guaranteed playing time to have the chance to find out what she was made of. Molly Fichtner is a person who understands that life is more than just succeeding, it's about being motivated and fearless, life is about wondering what you don't know and having the audacity to try and find out.
I asked Molly if there is one trait that everyone who makes it as far as she has possesses, and after some consideration she answered, "Shear determination."
Her advice to kids who have aspirations of playing at a higher level was simple but profound:
A lot of kids, when they think they're good - they stop working. The determination to be the best you can be and to keep working and to not be satisfied, that's what's going to separate you in the long run. Be determined to take your ability as far as it can go.
Alabama recently fell short of winning the Woman's College World Series in Molly's senior year, losing to Florida in the championship round, but when she spoke about the experience all I heard was a positive attitude. She talked about wanting to have an impact on kids playing softball and being a part of helping them to fulfill their dreams through coaching by getting her Master's degree and continuing to try to find the parts of herself that have yet to be challenged.
I described to Molly that I often tell my children, who both play competitive baseball and softball respectively, that I don't care about the end result... I care about how they do what they're doing.
Molly interjected, "At Alabama we call that process over outcome."
I think that phrase perfectly describes Molly's life and her success. In fact, I can't think of a better message for people living with diabetes, children who dream of playing a sport on the world's stage or the little girls who will grow up to be the next generation of woman; so I'm going to stop writing -- even though I could go on all day about how impressed I was with Molly Fichtner.
Great video of Molly in the 2014 WCWS, courtesy of NCAA Softball
This story originally appeared on Scott Benner's type 1 diabetes parenting blog, Arden's Day.