Beyond the Game: Badgers softball player faces adversity off field

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MADISON (WITI) -- A Badgers women's softball player is proof that overcoming adversity on the field makes an athlete stronger.

"We have a lot of underdogs on this team. We don't have too many superstars, but we have a lot of players that play hard, and others that have something to prove," Badgers Head Coach Yvette Healy said.

Overcoming obstacles has become a part of Badgers softball player Mary Massei's identity as she leads by example on the field and in life.

"She has high expectations of herself just because she's been doing so well this season, and that's definitely driving me and my other teammates," Badgers outfielder Kendall Grimm said.

"I try to be positive no matter what the situation, and I feel that's something that I can rub off on my other teammates -- but they also rub off on me as well," Massei said.

Before she landed in right field for Wisconsin, before she arrived at Wisconsin, Massei was forced to step up to the plate.

"Anytime you hear the word cancer, me, I immediately think of death. When I heard it, I thought 'but my life hasn't even started yet,'" Massei said.

Two months before making the move to Madison, Massei was diagnosed with thyroid cancer -- putting her career at a standstill. However, one thing radiation therapy couldn't heal was a yearning for the softball diamond.

"My entire team was practicing and conditioning and I just wanted to get back on the field and play," Massei said.

"We told her to just get healthy and there would be a spot for her, and the fact that she came in the semester after a lot of treatment just showed her tenacity," Healy said.

After conquering cancer, Massei prepared herself for a breakout season, but more bad breaks got in her way.

"Facial fracture freshman year from diving for a ball. In my sophomore year, I had surgery on my calves -- so that's been something that I've been having to deal with," Massei said.

Now 100% in her junior year, Massei has led the team to its best season in school history -- all fueled by what she's learned in the face of adversity -- that giving up is not an option.

"It keeps everything in perspective. You see someone battling a life or death situation, and you remember that this is softball. It's supposed to be fun. Mary's really been a reminder of that," Healy said.

"She's such a positive inspiration -- just knowing that we can overcome anything," Grimm said.

"That part of my life is something I look back on and I'm grateful that I actually went through it. I'm grateful that I'm a survivor. It's going to push me through any trial that I face, because I know God won't put me through anything I can't handle," Massei said.

Massei is from the suburb of Los Angeles, but says she feels completely at home in the Midwest. She ranks in the top 10 in the Big Ten Conference in batting average this season.