By the time Emma Holden celebrates her first birthday, she will have travelled further than many people do in a lifetime.
That’s because Emma is the baby daughter of Sandy Holden, the Aussie Spirit pitcher who will soon head to the USA on the first leg of an epic softball journey.
Like her teammates, Holden will travel to Oklahoma City for the World Cup, which begins on June 20. From there they head to Vancouver for the Women’s World Softball Championship. And later in the year, Holden’s plane will land in Tokyo, where she will represent Australia in the Japan Cup.
It’s a familiar travel story for many of the Spirit players, who will have similar schedules over the next three months.
But Holden’s story is different for a couple of reasons.
First, she is the only mother on the team, which means that baby Emma and husband Matt will also travel with her. Second, she has been selected as a reserve player for the World Championship tournament, which means she will not play unless another pitcher withdraws through injury.
The fact that Holden agreed to such an arrangement is a tribute to the character and commitment of the 180cm Queenslander. How many players would go through the arduous preparation and endure the financial burden to go to a tournament in which they are unlikely to set foot on the diamond?
Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow is full of admiration for Holden.
“She had a baby in September and put in the work to return for the Gilley’s Shield and put herself in the frame for selection,” Barlow said.
“To return from having a baby so quickly and taking on the travelling reserve role with her husband and bub shows the character of Sandy and her commitment to the team.”
Happily for the Holdens, Emma has already done her fair share of travelling to softball fields and hasn’t been fazed. “She’s such an easy-going baby,” Holden says. “If she wasn’t, I couldn’t do it. I’d have to stop playing.”
A key factor in her decision to make the trip as a reserve player was husband Matt. “He has been amazing, just so supportive,” Holden says. “I couldn’t do it without him.
“When I’m playing I find it very easy to switch off (being a mother). I don’t have to worry about Emma. I’m 100 per cent confident that she is being looked after.”
The couple, both teachers at Livingstone Christian College in Ormeau, took a combination of long-service and maternity leave to finance the trip. But despite the drain on the budget, they didn’t have to think twice when the opportunity arose.
“We knew from the start we’d have to find a way to raise the money to go,” Holden says. “But in the end, it’s only money. If we didn’t go, we’d be kicking ourselves.”
To help finance the trip, Holden has set up a GoFundMe page.
Although she is unlikely to play in Vancouver, Holden will definitely be a part of the Japan Cup team. She knows what to expect, having played in the 2009 event.
“In Japan the fans are fanatical, it’s just so intense. It will be totally different. In Canada the fans go wild if the Canadian team is playing, but that’s all. In Japan it’s another level up. The fans just love their players.”
Holden’s softball career began in unlikely circumstances when she was just 10. “At our school we had only two sports: netball and softball,” she says. “I hated netball, so it was an easy choice. I didn’t really pick the sport – it picked me.”
That school team had no pitcher, so Holden was thrust into the role. “The coach told me to have a go, then he left me there and I’ve been there ever since.”
Her first club team was the Cougars in the Redcliffe Leagues Softball Association, where she hopes to play for many years to come.
About to turn 35, Holden has no plans to retire. “I’ll be one of those little old ladies playing whatever division when I’m 60,” she says. “I’ll keep playing until I can’t.”
Similarly, she’s not ready to stop playing at the elite level just yet. “There’s probably a time limit on my international career, but I’m not going to be the one to set that limit.”