Softball started easily enough for Grace Roark. At 7-years-old, she had stopped playing soccer and wanted to stay active, so she followed some friends into rec league softball.
But Grace and softball soon hit it off as she learned she loved the game itself, and her natural agility and strength made her a good fit on the hot corner of third base.
“I like the competitiveness, but also the teamwork and being able to accomplish something
other with multiple people,” she says.
Now 13, headed into eighth grade at Monocacy middle school and playing with the 18U Gold Heartbreakers travel softball team, Grace has found herself more and more on the mound as well.
“I have always had a pretty strong arm,” she says. “Throwing just comes to me naturally.”
But something else happened between Grace’s early softball days and where she is today — she got taller. A lot taller.
“Grace, she’s 13, but she’s almost 5’11”,” says Grace’s mother Meredith.“I think it was probably two years ago she had a six inch growth spurt.”
That’s had some advantages, especially for a pitcher, “It definitely allowed me to have more power and it also technically gets me closer to the batter so I can pitch faster,” Grace says, but it’s had its downside as well.
“When she was playing 10U travel, she was really agile at third base,” Meredith adds. “She grew so fast, so quick, she lost some of that agility that she’s had.”
Grace and her family began looking around for a trainer that could help Grace hone her reflexes again, regain that spring in her toes, and do so while protecting her from injury as she came into her new height and power.
“From the parent perspective, the primary driver was making sure she stays safe,” Meredith says. “That she be equally balanced between her muscles and that she gains some strength.”
Through Facebook, Grace’s family came across videos of other Heartbreaker softball players attending Players Fitness and Performance, in Frederick. In May of 2017, they decided to try it out. It fit.
“I did look at other places, but they just had a different vibe than PFP,” Grace says. As soon as I walked in the door, I was greeted with a hug — it was just more like a family that also focused on you as an athlete.”
Meredith says they were impressed with the way PFP focused on the mental aspects of the game, strategy and mindset, in addition to traditional athletics, while also expanding those lessons beyond the weight room or the field.
“Once we got in, we realized this wasn’t just about Grace becoming stronger, this was really about the whole athlete. They talk a lot to their athlete about how to approach things, not just on the field, but in life,” she says. “We realized this was so much more than her working out, this is about her as a whole person. That’s obviously the most important part no matter what at the end of the day.”
But that’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of physical work too. PFP Performance Coach Travis Bewley says he was immediately struck by Grace’s focus and demeanor in the gym.
“Grace is one of those athletes we get that is young but is wise beyond her years, both physically and mentally,” he says. “She dives into her program, tunes out everything around her while in her set. That’s really impressive at her age.”
This helped tremendously, Bewley says, in the type of detailed training he set Grace to help her regain her agility on the field.
“For a girl that grows that quick that early — she’s already as tall as me — we do rhythm work to help her maintain her range of motion and grow into her body,” Bewley says. “Rhythm, balance and stability work — those things help long term.”
And not just long term. That agility training, along with traditional strength training, really started paying dividends for Grace early on.
“You could tell things just shifted for her. There was a noticeable difference in the way she carried herself,” Meredith says. “I think the most obvious one was within a few months of her starting at PFP she was able to get her first over the fence homerun.”
“I got a good pitch and it went over,” Grace adds. “I just remember running around the bases as fast as I can, I sprinted around the bases because I was just too excited.”
And that after a batter from the opposing team had hit a homerun off of Grace in the inning prior.
“She was able to just turn it around,” Meredith says. “There was a time I’m not sure that would have happened, but she’s been able to sustain a higher level of confidence.”
Most recently, Grace received another boost to that confidence, as PFP named her Athlete of the Month for September.
“It definitely felt like an accomplishment,” she says. Amongst all the other people who are doing amazing things, I was just really grateful and appreciative that they saw me as deserving.”
And for the future? There’s a lot of it ahead for Grace, given that she’s only 13.
“We’re just trying to take it a year at a time at this point,” Meredith says. “This has some longevity considering her age and we’re looking forward to seeing what that journey looks like. It’s fun to watch her play and we think she is going to learn a ton.”
Grace does too. Though she’s not opposed to thinking ahead a little bit.
“I’d like to go and play in college so that I can sort of still have this experience of being with a team,” she says. “Pushing myself as an athlete, as a person, becoming the best person I can be even in my college life.”
That’s Grace Roark’s why. What’s your why?