Sunday, May 16, 2010

Strength to Believe in Yourself

When I graduated from high school and it was time for me to go to college, I decided to attend the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. To me, a little farm boy from Cow Island, it was the biggest and most intimidating city in the world. The people there spoke differently, drove convertibles on three lane roads, and had wonderments like bowling allies, super stores and a 24-hour pancake house.

The level of difficulty involved in the transition from one phase of life to the next varies depending on the person and the difference between the two phases. When I was eighteen, Lafayette and U.L. were the perfect places for me because of size, location, and culture.

But what if I had gone to college in the largest city in the U.S.? Where would someone who grew up in the country find the courage to handle so much change? Where would they find the strength?

When Prophet Gaspard, a senior at St. Thomas Moore High School, took her first swing at a tee-ball at five years old, she probably didn’t realize how much of a large part the game would play in her life. Chances are the Forked Island resident wasn’t fantasizing about becoming a pitcher or being on teams that would win national and state championships. But the sport fit her, and eventually helped to guide the young lady towards an ivy-league education.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to play softball in college because of my size,” says Gaspard. “I’m only five feet two inches tall, and most division one universities want taller pitchers.”

But the young lady didn’t let size stop her when she applied to Columbia University in New York City for this fall. She chose this school because of its location and because of its world-renowned engineering college.

“I’m going to study environmental engineering because I’ve always been interested in earth science and math,” says Gaspard. “I want to experience the Northeast and the culture of New York.”

Gaspard received guidance from her St. Thomas Moore softball coach, Joy Weber LeBlanc. Coach LeBlanc contacted Coach Kayla Noonan at Columbia University to see if they had an interest in new players.

“It just so happened that Columbia was looking for a pitcher,” said Gaspard. “So Coach LeBlanc sent a tape of me playing softball to Coach Noonan. After several weeks, they both encouraged me to apply to the university.”

Although Gaspard’s pitching speed of approximately fifty-seven mph was an asset, it was her academic profile that helped her gain admittance to Columbia’s engineering college. In addition to having a high grade point average and SAT score, the young lady was active in Beta Club, and is a member of the National Honor Society.

Gaspard’s most memorable moment playing softball was during a semi-final game last year when she was pitching for St. Thomas Moore. Towards the end of the game, when the score was very close and the players were exhausted, hope and motivation emerged like a homerun hit with bases loaded.

“One of the school’s teachers has a son named Eli who has a spine disorder,” recalled Gaspard. “The team dedicated the entire season to him. During the last inning of the game, one of my teammates shouted out, ‘Let’s do this for Eli!’ It gave us strength and we won. But the moment was about something so much larger than winning.”

I had never met Prophet Gaspard before our interview, but had gone to high school with her parents, Patricia and Sindol Gaspard. When I heard about the young lady’s acceptance to Columbia, I was excited and jealous. She accomplished something that I hadn’t even fantasized about until many years later.

When Gaspard and I sat down for the interview, it was during the time period of her high school softball playoffs. Days later, St. Thomas Moore went on to win the state championship for the second year in a row. I don’t usually follow girl’s high school softball, but when I heard the news, I became as excited as I was about the young lady attending Columbia.

“Where are you going to get the strength to handle all of those people and so much change?” I asked Gaspard during our interview.

“I’m used to change and meeting new people,” she responded. “When you play sports, it’s a new team every year.”

I realized that there wasn’t much that scared this five-foot two-inch tall young lady. Then again, I guess not much would scare me if I could throw a ball at fifty-seven miles per hour.

But it’s not Gaspard’s remarkable physical capabilities that impress me the most. It’s that she possesses the most powerful strength possible; the strength to believe in herself.

If she had given up on the season dedicated to Eli, she wouldn’t have felt the power of something larger than winning. If she had let her size stop her from attempting to play softball at Columbia, she wouldn’t be preparing herself for future phases of her life. If she’d let change scare her, she wouldn’t be following her dreams.

I wish this young lady the best of luck as she transitions from the Intra-coastal canal breezes of Forked Island to the pulsating beat of New York City. I applaud and thank her parents for supporting their daughter as she pursues her educational and life goals. The Gaspard family’s lesson on the power of believing in oneself gives me strength.