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Softball legend on podium

White Sox captain Lara Andrews was the guest speaker for Thursday night’s Wairarapa Maori Sports Awards. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

MAORI SPORTS AWARDS

CHRIS COGDALE
[email protected]

The first Kiwi woman to play professional softball in the United States was the guest speaker for Thursday night’s Wairarapa Maori Sports Awards at Copthorne Solway Park.

Lara Andrews is the White Sox captain and the team’s most capped international, with what she estimates at 60 to 70 appearances.

In August, Andrews was named New Zealand Softballer of the Year.

As well as a storied international sporting career, Andrews has excelled academically and will soon graduate with a doctorate in parental involvement in sports and children’s well-being.

Andrews, who is of Ngati Ruanui, Rarotongan, and Pakeha descent, was raised by her grandparents in Petone.

She first played softball at the age of nine. Such was her talent, she made her New Zealand debut at age 15.

That paved the way for a university scholarship and at 19, she went to the US to study at Itawamba Community College in Tupelo, Mississippi.

While in the US, Andrews played two years of professional softball with the Pennsylvania Rebellion.

She said the game in the US and New Zealand were worlds apart.

“The standard is about 100 times higher. It’s a business over there, very professional with a lot of media coverage and live television coverage on ESPN.

“You can make a living off it and it gets you an education. $40,000 is one year of university,” Andrews said.

“In New Zealand I have to pay to play for my country. People don’t see the struggles and hassles.

“It affects every area of your life, mentally and physically, but it is an honour to represent your country.”

Andrews’ dream of representing New Zealand at the Olympic Games may be over though.

The White Sox’s hopes of making next year’s Tokyo Olympics ended when they finished fifth at the Asia-Oceania Qualifiers in Shanghai, China in September.

With breakdancing replacing softball at the 2024 Paris Olympics, the next opportunity for the Kiwi softballers to compete on sport’s biggest stage will be 2028, when the Games will be hosted by Los Angeles.

At the award ceremony Andrews spoke about balancing sport and academic life.

“… about using sport as a tool for education and the benefits of sport for getting through life.”

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