“It took uprooting the identity I had in my arm to show me that I was not just a softball player, and that I had far greater purposes than making every play and hitting every ball.”

Cassidy Coleman hardly remembers a time when she wasn’t playing softball.

Born and raised in an athletic family, Coleman was on the field before ever stepping foot into elementary school. She spent much of her childhood in practice and on the road, meeting the demands of travel ball. 

As a third baseman, Coleman spent years creating an identity “in her arm,” as she explains it, all in the hope of one day playing softball at the collegiate level.

So in the fall of her junior year, when she learned she would be joining the team at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, Coleman was overjoyed.

“This was something I worked toward my whole life,” Coleman said. “And so I was very proud and very excited to get the opportunity to play.”

As freshman year began, the demands of the sport grew, and Coleman came to believe that her life’s purpose had been cemented. Her foundation was softball, and her identity was a softball player.

An identity crisis

By the end of her first semester, however, the cement began to crack. What was once the foundation of her life fell apart within a couple of months. 

Leading into the team’s spring season, Coleman developed a mental block that caused her to lose her ability to throw. This mental block — a condition known colloquially as “Steve Blass Disease” or “Yips” — is not uncommon among athletes and has been known to send professionals into early retirement.

She talks freely about it now, but the problem debilitated her as well. 

“The ball felt completely foreign in my hand,” Coleman said. “I couldn’t picture the proper motion to throw; it felt like I had never held a softball before. I was filled with fear, with confusion, and as I went to throw, [the ball] just soared over my throwing partner’s head.

“I didn’t know what was going on. She threw the ball back, I threw it again, and it went straight into the ground. And it persisted for weeks, no matter how much work I put in.”

When COVID-19 forced an early shutdown of the season, Coleman believed she had a reprieve. She was determined to work on her throwing throughout the summer, and by the fall of her sophomore year, she returned to the softball field.

But when her mental block returned in the spring, she felt like the foundation of her life collapsed.

“Softball was my best friend,” Coleman said. “For the majority of my life, it was the one thing I could count on, the one place I could go to escape. … When I had forgotten how to throw, it was like it all got ripped out from under me.”

A rebuilt foundation

For the past two years, Savanna Wood has made it her goal to reach college athletes at Lees-McRae with the gospel.

To find opportunities to interact with this population, Perkinsville Church in Boone sent Wood out as their collegiate missionary. She quickly began to develop relationships with students through a Bible study she started for female college athletes, where she would eventually meet Coleman.

Coleman recalled, “It was the first time someone had told me to read my Bible, that I could actually get something from it and understand it for myself. I didn’t know who I was, and so I sought answers in the Bible.” 

It was here, with Wood’s help, that Coleman began to rebuild a new identity — this time grounded in God’s Word.

The two came to realize they shared a similar story. Wood’s background in golf helped build a connection with Coleman. 

“When I played golf, I went through a season where I had a really hard time with my mental game,” Wood said.

Wood’s friendship, combined with a newfound understanding of God’s Word, caused Coleman to look inward and begin building a new identity. This time, however, she understood her purpose to be found in Christ.

“Looking back on it, my identity [had been] heavily rooted in softball,” Coleman said. “It took uprooting the identity I had in my arm to show me that I was not just a softball player, and that I had far greater purposes than making every play and hitting every ball.”

A newfound purpose

After coming to Christ during her sophomore year, Coleman transferred to Appalachian State and began serving with Wood in Perkinsville Church. Now, Coleman has found a new purpose working as a missionary to reach her former teammates.

Wood remarked that the change in Coleman’s life has been astounding: “Seeing the work God has done in her life has been astronomical … she has really become a partner in the gospel.”

Wood isn’t the only one who has witnessed this change in Coleman’s life — Coleman’s teammates notice the difference. Several months ago, she had the opportunity to celebrate one of her former teammate’s baptism, and now she is discipling her the same way she was discipled by Wood.

Coleman has a new foundation, and she’s excited to share the good news with everyone.

“I don’t know where the weeks, months, years will lead me, but my ultimate desire is to make Jesus known to others,” Coleman said. “Wherever I’m at or whoever I’m with, I desire to make Jesus known with my life.”