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Softball coach shares story of Olympic glory

Softball coach Julie Smith presents “How One Trains for an Olympic Gold Medal (and what one does with it once it’s won)” as part of the faculty lecture series Monday in the President’s Dining Room. Smith shared her experience of being part of the 1996 Olympic softball team. Smith also shared how she learned to embrace her great achievements and not allow them to define her. / photo by Pablo Cabrera

Softball coach Julie Smith presents “How One Trains for an Olympic Gold Medal (and what one does with it once it’s won)” as part of the faculty lecture series Monday in the President’s Dining Room. Smith shared her experience of being part of the 1996 Olympic softball team. Smith also shared how she learned to embrace her great achievements and not allow them to define her. / photo by Pablo Cabrera

Amber J. Guadez
Staff Writer

Julie Smith, assistant athletic director and head softball coach, spoke about her journey to Olympic gold, and her post-gold victories during Monday’s faculty lecture.

The lecture, titled “How One Trains for an Olympic Gold Medal,” was held as a part of the faculty lecture series.

Smith began her story by showing her still-shiny gold medal, which she won as a member of the U.S. softball team in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

“If you really want something that badly, you can get it,” Smith said. “Never give up and never let anyone tell you, you can’t.”

She was the smallest on the team, she said, adding there was no greater feeling than being the first to have the gold medal put around her neck.

As a child, Smith said, she always had her nose stuck in a book. Her mother coached her older sister and brothers, who all showed a lot more interest in sports.

One day she decided that she wanted to play softball, and has been hooked ever since, she said.

Smith played several sports such as basketball, volleyball ,and she track and field.

After graduating from Fresno State in 1991, Smith continued to play softball and worked as a human resources administrator at Robert Shaw Controls in Long Beach.

Her job made it possible for her to live a lavish life at a beach front house but work began to interfere with her athletic interests.

“If I continued to work, it would be a crutch and even an excuse,” Smith said.

In 1994 Smith decided to resign. She gave up her beach house and moved back home to get serious about training.

Smith explained how the training process was grueling with no clear-cut process.

When the Olympic team was chosen and she heard her name called, she was in complete shock, she said.

Still the importance of being an Olympian didn’t hit Smith until the opening ceremonies in Atlanta in 1996, she said.

“This is something bigger than just a softball team,” Smith said.

“To represent your country, share camaraderie and walk down that ramp was the most incredible feeling.”

Americans had high hopes for the Olympic softball team. The United States had won every single game, until they played a close game versus Australia and lost.

To their luck, their final game against China claimed them victorious and a gold medal winning moment.

“You have to be willing to fail, use the hurt and fear to channel and work through it ‘til the end of the day,” Smith said.

Smith’s life after winning a gold medal was dedicated to coaching.

“I came today because I have tremendous respect for our sports program,” said University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman, who attended the lecture.

“It’s not about being an athlete or a scholar; it’s about being the best and I see that in Julie Smith.”

Max Brown, junior psychology and speech communications major thought it was really cool to have a gold medalist on campus as a coach.

“One of the biggest things I learned was the key of keeping a good balance of enjoying and working hard,” Brown said.

Amber J. Guadez can be reached at amber.guadez@laverne.edu.

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