Jennie Finch wanted to be in the Olympics from the time she was three and saw Mary Lou Retton take the gold in Los Angeles. But for the promising youth-league pitcher, the dream truly galvanized in 1996 when softball was first introduced on the Olympic level.
By then, Finch had been working the diamond for more than 10 years, practicing six times a week to perfect her fastball. “My dad was my pitching coach and my parents packed the family up and drove me all over the place so I could play,” Finch recalls.
When she joined the squad at the University of Arizona, she entered the critical stage of a budding career that would one day make her the most famous name in the sport. A first-team All American player, Finch struck out the final batter to clinch the 2001 Women’s College World Series and was named Most Outstanding Player.
After college she played on the U.S. national team and became the first female correspondent on the ESPN show This Week in Baseball. Meanwhile, she started preparing in earnest for her first Olympic appearance at the 2004 Games. “Being on an Olympic team means that you train by yourself for most of the year for a team sport,” she explains. “It was tough, especially coming from such a tight knit group of teammates at U of A. It was a big change.”
The team dominated in Athens, taking home the gold (for the third year in a row, mind you). Sports Illustrated put them on the cover with the headline “The Real Dream Team,” calling them the greatest of all time. But for all the fanfare, it was Jennie Finch who became the real star.
The six-foot-one-blonde was featured in Glamour and Vanity Fair. She was interviewed on late-night TV by David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel. Sprint, Bank of America and softball equipment brand Mizuna showered her with endorsement deals.
“It was a little overwhelming," Finch says now. "I’d had a taste of it before the Olympics, but afterward it was at a whole different level.”
And it didn’t stop there. Following a silver-medal performance at the 2008 Games, Finch competed on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice.
But the time was steeped in disappointment. The Olympic committee had ruled to eliminate softball from future Games. “It was devastating,” Finch tells YouBeauty. “To come so far as a sport and then see that opportunity taken away made me realize we need to keep pushing to get it back in. It was also a reminder not to take things for granted. I loved wearing the USA uniform. It was such a tremendous privilege. I want that for future generations of softball players.”
In that vein, Finch is lobbying to get softball back in the Olympics for 2020, and runs Jennie Finch Softball Camps for girls. She retired from softball in 2010 and lives on a farm in Sulpher, Louisiana, with her husband, former Major League Baseball pitcher Casey Daigle, and their two sons, Ace and Diesel.
“Everything in life shapes who we are,” says Finch reflecting on her Olympic past. “I’ve been blessed to have incredible experiences and see amazing things around the world. Now I’m able to give back in ways that I couldn’t while I was playing.”
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