February 27th, 2012
01:45 PM ET
Editor's Note: Denise Castelli is one of seven CNN viewers selected to be a part of the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program. Denise lost her leg to an infection following a tragic accident in a collegiate softball game. Last week, she received words of encouragement from two-time Olympic softball player Jennie Finch. Check back on CNN.com/health for more on Finch later this week.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a ball player. In fact, softball has been the only constant through out my life. But for me, it has always represented more than just a game. It was an opportunity - a chance to push myself, to achieve goals and build strong relationships.
While those relationships were often with teammates, it also (if not more importantly) solidified my bond with my father. We spent numerous evenings on the field, practicing fly balls over and over. Ball after ball, he would keep hitting to me until the sun went down.
It was during those summer evenings that my passion for softball was ignited. From that point on it was the only thing I ever wanted to do.
Though I’m a huge Yankee fan, the players didn’t fulfill my role-model needs as a young female athlete. I wasn’t a baseball player, and I certainly wasn’t a boy. I was a softball player. I often found myself wondering, “Who am I supposed to idolize?”
Then, out of nowhere, I came across Jennie Finch.
When I was 15, the NCAA Women’s College World Series was just becoming a big deal on ESPN. I remember watching the games religiously with my father. With each game, each play, I became enthralled with Jennie Finch.
As I watched each game, she became my icon. When it came time to look at playing in college, it was her inspiration that gave me the strength to believe I could. Because of her, I would spend the next four years of my high school career working as hard as I possibly could.
In the end, the sacrifices and hard work paid off.
My first two years at a junior college here in New Jersey were where I earned all-conference, all-region and all-American recognition. It was this early success that enabled me to transfer to the University of New Haven. I would finish my final two years of college as a Charger.
Unfortunately during my senior year, I took off from first base on a steal. On the way to second, I broke my leg and in an instance my life was changed.
I would ultimately have my leg amputated. While this tragedy was life altering and without-a-doubt challenging, I am proud to know I was doing what I love.
This past fall I attended the New York City Marathon where I was a guest in the conservatory and a spectator at the finish line. Oddly enough, Jennie Finch had been racing in the marathon that day.
While I had always considered slow-twitch sports (like long-distance running) out of reach due to my years of quick-twitch training (like sprinting to first base), watching her cross the finish line left me inspired once again. Now the seed was planted. The light was turned on.
When I read about CNN’s Fit Nation Challenge, I remembered watching her cross the finish line that day. Drawing a new flow of confidence from my idol, I began dreaming a new dream.
Last week, when I learned that our producer, Caitlin Hagan was interviewing Jennie Finch, I nearly had a conniption. I frantically emailed her that she HAD to tell Jennie about me.
Caitlin immediately emailed me back telling me that she was sorry. They had totally forgotten and didn’t have that much time left with her. Was I bummed? Of course! This could have been the only chance I’d ever have to meet the person who has consistently been a source of inspiration for me. And I had missed it.
Well, I should know by now that CNN Fit Nation is all about making my dreams come true. A few hours later, Caitlin emailed me with a link to the video (watch it at the top of this post!). As I was traveling on Amtrak to Philly, I saw the link and broke down. I could not believe it.
There she was - Jennie Finch - talking about me! I could not believe that she knew my story. I could not believe that Jennie Finch was giving ME words of encouragement!
Shortly after I watched the video, I emailed the link to my parents. My father called me and he was beaming. Even though we never spoke the words – there was a shared acknowledgement. We were remembering all those times in our den watching her play softball - all the times we spent together at the field trying to make my dreams come true. All those evenings we spent cementing our love for each other and for a sport.
In that moment I realized the Jennie Finch interview wasn’t just important moment for me, it was also a moment for him.
I’m not sure I can ever fully explain what Jennie Finch has done for my life. I’m not even sure that a blog post can sufficiently convey her importance to me. In fact, I know a few short paragraphs won’t do justice to what has taken me so long to understand.
However I can relate one thing: she has inspired me since I was that little girl practicing fielding with my dad. She changed the way I view softball, and she helped me realize my dream of being an NCAA athlete.
Then with one last surge, she helped me dream my dream of crossing the finish line.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.