One of the traits of a great softball pitcher is being resilient in the face of adversity. Unlike other positions, even during the worst moments in the pitcher’s circle, your team relies on you to deliver the next pitch.

For Amiyah Aponte, a junior softball player for University of the Pacific, it was almost as if she was born to be a pitcher. Aponte has had to overcome a substantial number of challenges in her life.

“My dad was in jail for a significant portion of my life, so I grew up in a single-parent household with my mom,” said Aponte.

“She worked two jobs to support us and the one-bedroom apartment we were living in. My time with my mom was limited since she was always working, but I admired her incredible work ethic and everything she did to provide for me.”

That strength and perseverance has undoubtedly been passed down to Aponte, who recently became one of the March recipients of the CalHOPE Courage Award. The award honors student-athletes at California colleges and universities who have overcome the stress, anxiety and mental trauma associated with personal hardships and adversity.

While Aponte is grateful for the award, her strength and courage to conquer the difficulties of her childhood didn’t happen overnight, and she credits softball with distracting her from the day-to-day struggles.

“My mom always encouraged me to pursue extracurricular activities and keep myself busy,” said Aponte.

“Once I discovered softball, I was able to make friends, be involved in the community, and most importantly, I could just focus on having fun on the field. When I was playing, I didn’t have to worry about the struggles we were going through at home.”

As Aponte continues to have fun and shine on the field at Pacific, her impressive pitching statistics pale in comparison to the accomplishments she’s been able to achieve off the field.

Family bonding

Having someone to take Aponte to and from practices and games remained the biggest challenge early in her softball career. She couldn’t rely on her mother to take her, due to her hectic work schedule, but fortunately for Aponte, there was someone that could.

“My grandpa has easily been the biggest influence in my softball career,” said Aponte. “He took me everywhere I needed to go as far as tournaments, practices, lessons – including driving me to Anaheim to make sure I had instruction from some of the best coaches.”

“I never would have made it to the Division I level if it wasn’t for him. His positive attitude and encouragement always made me want to continue playing, and I think of him every time I pitch.”

Even though Aponte’s mother wasn’t able to be present in her daughter’s youth as much as she would’ve liked, the two cherished the times they were able to spend together.

“When time and money allowed, she loved taking me to Disneyland,” said Aponte. “I remember enjoying all the trips to the Dollar Tree we used to take together. Whatever it was, and however long we had together, she always made the best of it.”

Filling a void

Much like the ebbs and flows of life, Aponte’s childhood had its series of ups and downs. There were times when work promotions and bonuses made for a more comfortable lifestyle. Other times, when Aponte’s mother got laid off and was between jobs, both money and food were scarce.

Not long after this, Aponte’s stepfather stepped up in a major way and increased his hours working construction. He bought a house for all of them to live in and became a key provider for the family.

With her father being in prison for much of her life, Aponte acknowledges the relationship between a stepfather and stepdaughter can be complicated at times, but she greatly appreciates the life he has helped provide for her.

“My stepdad became a true father figure in my life that I didn’t have,” said Aponte.

“He treated me like I was his biological daughter, which meant so much to me. He supported my mom and me in so many different ways. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that.”

My stepdad became a true father figure in my life that I didn’t have. He treated me like I was his biological daughter, which meant so much to me. He supported my mom and me in so many different ways. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that.

It takes time

Despite the improved stability in Aponte’s life with her stepfather’s presence, she was eager to reconnect with her biological father once he was released from prison.

“When my dad got out of prison, I was so excited to have him back in my life,” said Aponte. “What I didn’t understand at the time, though, was that he needed to focus on himself and get back on his feet before he could focus on me.”

As she got older and into her high school years, she began to understand. That’s also the same time the two worked to mend the relationship and get to know each other better.

“With my dad being in prison for so much of my life, it’s impossible to just expect this to be a normal father-daughter relationship,” said Aponte.

“It took time for me and my father to make up for the years we had lost with one another — we had so much to learn and still have so much more to learn.”

She loves being able to say she has two fathers who love her and have her best interests at heart.

Humble and grateful

She’ll be the first to admit that she still feels the effects of her difficult childhood today. But she has taken the steps to make sure her mental health remains in a great place and doesn’t let any past trauma impact her life today.

“I feel really strong and empowered to overcome everything that I have,” said Aponte. “My upbringing made me appreciative of everything that I have now, and it’s made me a kind, caring and compassionate person to be around.”

She also remains remarkably humble. While she was honored to have received the CalHOPE Courage Award, she knows there are others who are just as deserving.

“I’m so grateful that I was recognized and able to share my story, but I also know there are so many others who have accomplished as much as I have, if not more, in facing adversity in their lives,” said Aponte.

“With this award, one thing I’m trying to do is be proud of myself and stop and smell the roses a bit more to celebrate my victories.”

For everything she’s accomplished in her life, she has plenty of victories to celebrate.

And if her earned-run-average is any indication, there are plenty of victories left to celebrate in the future.

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