“Of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.”
That famous phrase, uttered by the inimitable Jimmy Dugan in the iconic baseball movie A League of Their Own, is Carey-Leigh Vyse’s favourite quote.
And for good reason.
The incredibly talented, inspiring and award-winning professional softball player never gave up, despite numerous challenges along her journey becoming the first Indigenous female softball player to join a national team in Canada in 2011.
Her softball career took her all over the world and taught her numerous life lessons that she imparted to listeners of the fourth installment of the CommUNITY Wellness Series on Saturday via Zoom.
The accomplished athlete, mother and elementary school teacher shared her experiences with the hope that she can be a positive role model for young people on Six Nations.
First and foremost, one has to dream. And dream big, she said.
Ever since Vyse was four years old, hitting that little teeball, she dreamed of becoming a professional softball player.
Those dreams came true in 2011 when she first clinched a spot with the Canada junior softball team. Since then, she secured spots on first base and third base with the senior women’s team, traveling the world representing Six Nations, teaching others about the culture, all while getting a degree in social work and education, becoming a mother and landing a full-time job as a teacher at Jamieson Elementary School.
She has a fire inside her that won’t quit.
“It helps to know that world class coaches believed in me,” says Vyse. “If they believed in me, I should believe in myself. Believing in yourself is a huge thing.”
Vyse, who is Cayuga, deer clan, also had parents who believed in her.
“When I would play softball, I would wear two braids every time,” she said, one in front and one behind.
The main reason was to keep her hair out of her face to see the ball, but it was also symbolic.
The braid in the front represented her mom, telling her everything was going to be okay. And the braid in the back represented her dad, telling her he always has her back.
Vyse carved out quite a name for herself during her years active in softball, becoming the first Indigenous woman in Canada to be named to the senior women’s national softball team in 2012.
“I was very humbled,” she said.
She took a year off in 2013 to have a baby but sprang right back into the game, becoming the first-ever mother to be on the national team. Since then, other female players drew inspiration from her and continued to play for the national team after giving birth.
Vyse faced challenge after challenge during the past decade – being an athlete, juggling motherhood with post-secondary schooling, losing her baby sister at the age of 18, and being cast as an alternate during the PanAm Games in 2015.
She never quit, though.
“The comeback is always stronger than the setback,” she said.
Everybody will face challenges in life but you need to have an inner fire in all aspects of life when going after what you want, she said.
“My thing is, I’m trying to teach my children not to make any excuses. If one way doesn’t work, find another. Being aboriginal, we as people are faced with challenges, especially in the softball world, there’s not a whole lot of Indigenous athletes. We’re slowly trying to change that. We’re trying to bring up softball in Indigenous communities. That’s one of my goals in the future.”
As the only Indigenous player on Team Canada, Vyse strived to be a positive representative of Six Nations and for Indigenous people as a whole.
“My goal was to show the world that we are capable of far more than anyone wants to believe. Anytime I stepped on that field, I strived to make my community proud.”
She’s also learned to be a positive thinker.
“You cannot be walking around with negative thoughts and expect a positive outcome in your life. There’s always something to be thankful for.”
She said it’s “very draining” to think negatively and ask “why is this happening to me” and encourages people to think instead: “this is happening for a reason and good things will come out of this. It will allow us to succeed.”
Softball wasn’t just a game to her. It taught her life lessons: finishing your work, not making excuses, and having that drive to create a secure future for herself and her family.
She put that attitude toward her schooling.
“I wanted to get good grades. I wanted to make my professors proud. I worked hard at that. Because of that, I was able to become a permanent teacher here on Six Nations, which makes me very happy.”
Vyse encourages youth to never give up.
“I hope to read your success story someday.”