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Ashley Hansen: Focused on Home

  • Jaquilyn Edwards, ‘13 by Jaquilyn Edwards, ‘13 Product Design Stanford Softball

Her eyes glint with fierce determination as she crouches poised and alert. Glove at the ready, she inches forward slowly. One step, then another. Her body is tense, ready to react, yet at the same time completely graceful. Effortless movement.

Whack!

The yellow softball jumps off the bat and flies across the ground. She springs into action. Her feet push against the dirt as she propels herself toward the ball with an intense, single-minded fury. Her eyes never stray from the ball, never wander from their purpose. Suspended in her crouch, she lowers her glove to the dirt.

The ball jumps unexpectedly, bouncing up with violent speed and intent, too quickly for her to react. Out of reflex, she flinches.

Smack! The ball crashes into the side of her face. There is a collective intake of breath, simultaneous gasps from those watching. The horrific thud resonates throughout the stadium.

Silence.

The field hushes as players and coaches freeze, holding their breaths. Worry blankets each face, concern etched into their foreheads. She remains standing, her back turned to the field, her head bowed. No sound escapes her; only the echo of impact lingers. She does not touch her face. Beside her rests her glove. Its brown leather matches the dirt where it lies abandoned, where its purpose lies abandoned.

Seconds pass. Before the athletic trainer can run on to the field to help her, she turns around and slowly raises a hand to stop him. The mark on her face is visible even from a distance, but her open hand brings him to a halt.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

She responds with an unconvincing nod, saying nothing. Her face is pale except for red color blossoming at the point of impact just next to her temple. She shrugs off her approaching teammates, assuring them with further nods. Each face she encounters retreats skeptically. Each player and coach had seen the force with which the ball had struck her face, and each knows she is downplaying the pain.

Her gaze turns to her glove, and she eyes it as if in a staring contest, refusing to look away, refusing to back down. She has no fear, no hesitation. She picks up her glove, dusts it off, and puts it back on her left hand where it belongs. Suddenly, it has purpose again. She is ready.

She resumes her crouch, preparing for the next ball. Again, her coach tosses the yellow softball into the air and hits it toward her. Practice was nowhere near to being over. Not for Ashley Hansen.

If you were to take one look at Ashley Hansen, you would see a young face and cheerful smile. You would see her athletic build, sandy blond hair, and kind, intelligent eyes. You would expect her to be just another face in the crowd, another successful Stanford student-athlete.

Look again.

Underneath that initial exterior are layers of personality, life, and intensity. Behind that first impression exists drive and resolve that a mere glance would not reveal. Look deeper, behind her eyes, and you see the hard work of her past, the determination of her present, and the promise of her future.

For as long as she can remember, Ashley has loved the game of softball. Her three older sisters all played softball while she was growing up. She remembers watching her sisters’ games, wishing she could join them, waiting to join them. She recalls begging her dad to play catch with her during their games, remarking that he often spent more time throwing with her than actually watching her sisters play.

As a result, Ashley began playing for a club softball team at the age of 6, becoming one of the youngest players to ever compete at this elite level. With her success came a weekly trek from her home in Arizona to practice and play with her California-based team. There, with the support of her family, her natural talent bloomed into remarkable athletic ability. She grew and thrived with the increased competition, making her way through the age levels of her club softball organization.

When Ashley reflects upon this time of her life, she remembers the love and encouragement her family supplied and have continued to supply throughout her career and life. Even now, in addition to the aspects of the game that she loves, Ashley continues to attribute her love of softball to her family. “To me, family and softball go hand in hand. Growing up, my parents made playing softball possible, and even now, they make it out to as many games as they can. The support of my family has been invaluable and is something I will always hold and cherish,” Ashley explains.

The family connection she experienced as a young athlete continues throughout her collegiate career. Although her teammates could never replace her real family, playing alongside them has similar significance and influence. Ashley remarks, “Playing for Stanford is like playing alongside my family. The countless hours, sweat, and blood that the team endures together in preparation for the season creates an incomparable camaraderie, one that I have never experienced on any other team.”

Without doubt, softball plays an important and dominant role in Ashley’s current life; however, it is very likely that Ashley will become a professional in a field other than sports. To her, softball is a conduit to a successful future. It has helped her gain acceptance into a prestigious college, it assists her in attaining her academic dreams, and ultimately it will facilitate the pursuit of her life goals. Embracing the academic side of her college experience, Ashley is on track to secure a degree in Management Science and Engineering, arguably one of Stanford’s most difficult majors. She laughs when asked why she chose such a difficult major: “Life isn’t fun when it’s easy,” she says simply. “It’s the twists and turns that keep it interesting.”

Ashley’s work ethic and drive can ultimately be attributed to her family. Growing up, she was never once pushed to play softball. She was supported in her decisions and never forced to practice. She took initiative on her own. Because her parents allowed her to love the game on her own and accomplish her goals through hard work, they facilitated Ashley’s charisma and love of life.

Even though she plans to enter the world of business after graduating, Ashley intends to have a future in a field a little closer to home. She hopes one day to pass along the expressions of love she receives from her parents and from those around her. In fact, she hopes one day to accomplish something bigger than playing softball or having the perfect career. Her ultimate dream: a family of her own.

The bright stadium lights illuminate the softball field from their position above the stands. From their height the players look like ants, scattered across the dirt, positioned evenly throughout the grass. From their height, the atmosphere is calm, the air is cool, and the energy of the field is peaceful.

Some fifty feet below, the situation is altogether different. The atmosphere sparks with a charged, almost electric energy. Parents and fans sit riveted on the edge of their seats, cheering with wild abandon. Players not on the field stand at their dugout fences, encouraging their teammates.

With the score tied 2-2, the game enters into extra innings. Stanford’s defense covers the field, each player’s face a mask of intensity and resolve. On third base stands a runner from the opposing team, a mere base away from scoring and defeating Stanford.

Ashley stands at her position at shortstop. Amidst the commotion and tension, she is a picture of calm concentration. Not a bead of sweat touches her brow. Waves of fierce focus and passionate determination roll off her, almost welcoming an invasion of the calm, a challenge.

She lives for this kind of situation.

Stanford’s pitcher begins her windup, preparing to serve a screwball across the corner of the plate. She releases with a hard snap, and the ball spins toward the outside edge of the strike zone. The batter swings as if in slow motion, the very end of her bat connecting with the pitch.

It is not a solid hit.

The ball tinkers over the edge of the infield, hovering in the air, and threatening to drop to the ground. From an outside perspective, it looks as if the ball cannot be caught. It looks as if it will be lost among the middle ground between infielders and outfielders where so many poorly hit balls seem to find a home.

But on the field, Ashley leaps into motion the second the ball leaves the bat. Her reflexes react on instinct – instinct honed by thousands of hours of practice and play. Her eyes shine with furious intensity. The need to catch this ball consumes her as she races after it. So far away.

In that single moment, there is nothing, and there is everything. It is all of her, and it is none of her. It is life and death, and it isn’t. It is as if the balance of the world is focused on this tiny pinpoint, its fate decided by whether or not the ball is caught. Closer.

Catch. The. Ball.

No other thought enters her mind. No other concerns pervade her complete and utter focus. No distraction can deter her from her course. Almost there.

In one smooth motion, she launches herself and soars through the air. Glove outstretched, she reaches further and further as momentum carries her to her destination. Her eyes never leave the ball. No shred of doubt poisons her concentration. Her spirit never wavers.

Caught.

The crowd erupts into a tumultuous roar. Players rush out of the dugout and onto the field, jumping wildly, smiles stretched across their faces. The players on the field sprint toward their teammates, exchanging high fives of pride, encouragement, and celebration.

They huddle together, as one unit, one family. Ashley grins in the center of the huddle, taking in the beaming faces around her. In this moment, she revels in perfect happiness. In this moment, she is surrounded by the love and support of her teammates.

In this moment, she is home.

Jaquilyn Edwards, ’13, is an outfielder on the Stanford softball team. During her freshmen year, she saw action in 17 games as a pinch hitter, pinch runner, or designated player. She is majoring in Product Design and enjoys the hands-on approach of the design process. Her summers consists of spending time with her family in Southern California and coaching young children at Chapman University’s baseball camps.