Of all the sports competing at the Tokyo Olympics, softball has had the rockiest of roads to the Games.
Installed as an Olympic sport in 1996, then banished after the 2008 Games in Beijing, softball has been reinstated for the Tokyo Olympics, but appears to be excluded from the 2024 Olympic program in Paris.
The Australian softball team players had an anxious wait with uncertainty over the Tokyo Olympics. Already postponed from 2020, there was the possibility it could be cancelled altogether because of COVID-19.
For many, that worst-case scenario would have been heartbreaking as it would have been their one and only opportunity to compete at an Olympic Games.
However, maintaining motivation has been the key.
Now 13 years after its last Olympic appearance, the Australian Softball team, Aussie Spirit, is preparing to play its opening game at the Tokyo Olympics against host nation Japan.
Only six teams qualified for the Games: Australia, Japan, the US, Mexico, Canada and Italy.
For Canberra school teacher Clare Warwick, it has been a long time coming as she prepares to make her Olympic Games debut.
Clare was a reserve for the Australian team in 2008, when it won bronze in Beijing. She was 21 years of age at the time and probably felt there would be plenty of Olympic opportunities to come.
Sadly for softball, that hasn’t been the case as it has bounced in and out of the Olympic program.
Now at 34, Clare heads to the Games with the same positive attitude she had 13 years ago as a reserve. However, this time around she is one of the team’s veterans.
I interviewed Clare for Region Media in 2019 and she spoke about the Olympics as an added bonus in the twilight years of her career.
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She also spoke about the sacrifices she has made, including in 2018 when she took 12 weeks away from her teaching duties at Harrison High School in Canberra.
There were no such worries in 2020 because of COVID-19, with the Aussie Spirit team having to wait 15 months to play an international, as well as Clare battling a hamstring injury.
She has also spoken many times about her love for the sport of softball.
“I will play until I stop finding it enjoyable, and at the moment I am enjoying it.”
Clare intimated that softball is part of her DNA, having played the sport since she was nine years of age. Now, 25 years later, she is making her Olympic debut.
Clare epitomises what it means to be an Olympian. Her back story and her journey to this point places everything into perspective.
Softball has been such an important part of her life, and now she is ready to participate in the highest of sporting endeavours.