Oct. 17, 2013
By Michael Kasiborski
If you are near the University of Michigan softball team's dugout when one of its hitters receives a base on balls, do yourself a favor and cover your ears.
"WALKS ARE GOOD!"
The entire team erupts in the three-word declaration that is both matter-of-fact and intimidating to opposing pitchers. Whether you have been around softball for one inning or 100 years, you likely know the familiar adage "a walk is as good as a hit." That is how Michigan hitters feel -- put me on base, I welcome it.
This month, as fall practice wraps up, the U-M squad is refining its skills on the diamond, developing its chemistry and planting the seeds for success come spring. And it is looking forward to one last walk before winter comes.
"We have two big bonding moments each fall," says senior outfielder Brandi Virgil. "The first is the Traverse City tournament, and the other is the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk."
Walks are good. Especially this one.
This will be the fourth walk for Virgil and the other five seniors on the team. It is an event and a cause that they have embraced since arriving in Ann Arbor.
"Being together and doing something from your heart -- it's not just something that we're showing up to because we have to be there -- it's something we love to be a part of."
Head coach Carol Hutchins began working with the American Cancer Society in 2006 and quickly got her team involved with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. A few years later, the team introduced the Michigan Softball Academy that benefits the charity. It is a chance to do good; a chance to build community; and a chance for the 21 women on the team to learn more about women's health and become ambassadors themselves.
"It's something that is so much bigger than ourselves," says Virgil. "If breast cancer hasn't already individually affected you or your family, it could. The people that are in this softball program have been affected by breast cancer. The walk teaches (the freshmen), and just educating them on breast cancer is important."
Virgil has spent her fall honing her sales skills and talking to potential donors about breast cancer. While she is focused on the greater good, she is still a softball player, and her competitive spirit does not evaporate simply because she is doing charitable work.
"My freshman year, Jordan Taylor herself raised more than a thousand dollars -- and I was like, how did she do that? It's been my goal all four years now to raise more than a thousand dollars. Caitlin Blanchard has been raising tons of money; she raised more than a thousand herself last year. I want to beat these girls."
Virgil has already surpassed the thousand-dollar mark -- she hit it earlier this week -- but she is still chasing Blanchard. Fortunately for the senior class, it has Virgil and Blanchard. There are not only individual competitions, but competitions among the classes as well.
"I thought asking for money was hard (when I was a freshman). But it's not so much. As I've gotten older, it has gotten easier," she admits. "I think the freshmen are a little scared or intimidated to ask people for money, but then you think about how many people came to our Academy and how many people have done that walk. You think about how many people have been affected by breast cancer, and you say this is for them, this is for their families and loved ones."
Like so many people, Virgil has had breast cancer afflict those close to her and her family. She now sees herself as an educator on the disease and how organizations like Making Strides Against Breast Cancer impact its eradication.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer will affect one in eight women in the U.S. during their lifetimes. Each year nearly a quarter of a million women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and additionally, nearly 2,500 men will receive the same diagnosis. About 40,000 of those new cases will be fatal.
The money the Michigan softball team is raising will fund research and treatments, as well as education and outreach. To date the program has raised more than $350,000 for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. The coaches and student-athletes plan to add $30,000 more this fall.
The walk is quickly approaching. Virgil and her teammates have until Saturday, Oct. 26, to keep filling the coffers.
When they embark on the walk that morning, they will be joining survivors and other advocates in the Ann Arbor area. It is an experience Virgil cherishes.
"We have so much fun with the walk, and a big part of it is meeting people on the walk and talking to people and hearing their stories; you're part of that community."
Leave the program better than you found it. It is a tenant that Hutchins preaches to her players. But why stop with the program? Why not make your community better than when you entered it? Why not change the world for the better? With each step and each dollar raised, Virgil thinks about that.
"Breast cancer is a nasty thing and it's scary and it's serious," she says. "People who are going through the fight, and survivors love to know that Michigan softball has joined the fight."
Walks are good. Some change the outcome of a softball game. Some change the world.
To donate to a member of the Michigan softball team's fundraising efforts, visit this link.
The Michigan softball team will join 149 other teams and more than 1,000 participants in the Making Strides of Ann Arbor walk on Saturday, Oct. 26. The walk begins at 9 a.m. on the campus of Washtenaw Community College [map]. To learn more about the walk click, here.
Mark your calendar! The fifth annual Michigan Softball Academy is scheduled for Thursday, May 1. Participants must be 21 years old to comply with NCAA regulations.
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