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Our Stories: Embracing the Small Moments

Dec. 7, 2016

Samantha Pierannunzi (as told to Justin Fedich)

I got off the plane from my summer-long trip to Spain on a Thursday, and I was so excited to see my family after the longest time I had ever been without them. On Saturday, I learned my mother had breast cancer again.

My name is Samantha Pierannunzi and I am a senior centerfielder on the Georgia Tech softball team. I grew up with two older brothers, Kevin and Michael, so naturally sports were a big part of my life. My parents, Kenneth and Jeannie, signed me up for every sport when I was younger. I mean every sport, including the chess team.

I began playing softball when I was four years old, and it wasn’t long before I realized it was the one sport I liked playing best.

I grew up about 30 minutes north of Georgia Tech in Suwanee. The greatest lesson my mother and father taught me was to love others unconditionally. However, my father also taught me to hate Georgia fans — in a respectable way of course — but that turned me into a Georgia Tech fan from a young age.

I don’t remember much from my mother’s first battle with breast cancer, but I remember being afraid of what was going to happen. I was five years old when she was first diagnosed, and my best friend Alex’s father had died of brain cancer just a few months earlier.

My brothers and I were still young when my mother was battling her first bout of cancer, so my father would bring us to Georgia Tech football games to get us out of the house and put our minds elsewhere. I always admired Georgia Tech, and I only hoped I would someday be good enough at softball and have the grades to attend the school I grew up rooting for.

My mother beat cancer a few years later, and my softball leagues transitioned from coach pitch to kid pitch. I wasn’t very good at hitting kid pitch, but I knew I had a passion for the sport. I worked hard to get better and soon I was playing in travel leagues.

I took my first unofficial visit to Georgia Tech, and I fell in love with the campus. I knew this was where I wanted to be, so I stayed close to home and accepted my offer to play for the Yellow Jackets. As it turns out, staying close to home has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

It never crossed my mind that my mother would be diagnosed with breast cancer after beating it once. Only a few days after an amazing study abroad trip to Spain — one in which I made so many great friends and learned so much about myself and another language — I was just happy to see my family again.

The breast cancer my mother had been diagnosed with this time was completely unrelated to the first one she had rid herself of 15 years prior. It was just bad luck.

As soon as I received the news, I began to panic. What if I don’t have her in my life for my senior season? What if she doesn’t see me graduate?

My parents quickly calmed me down. They assured me that I shouldn’t let it affect my senior year in a negative way.

“I still expect you to get a 4.0 this semester,” my father told me. “I still expect you to bat .400. I still expect you to be a good leader to your teammates and a good friend to your friends. I still want you to have fun in your senior year.”

Midway through my senior year, I have taken my parents’ advice. I’ve come to grips with the fact that you’re always going to be faced with bad circumstances. Your’s might be different than other people’s. But you still have to make the most of the hand that you’re dealt. I can’t just let my senior year of college go by the wayside.

One of the ways I’ve done that is by making the most of the small moments in life. Sometimes after practice, I will just sit out in center field by myself and appreciate my small role in this big campus. That’s the lesson I’m trying to teach the younger players.

I tell them not to get caught up in the stress and the hectic schedule of being a student athlete. If you don’t take hold of moments that are good, you’re missing the bigger picture. I tell them to love the little moments you get to spend with your teammates because those are the ones that matter most when it’s over.

I have many favorite memories from my nearly four years at Georgia Tech. One that stands out is when I hit a grand slam my freshman year to help my team sweep North Carolina in a doubleheader.

Funny thing is, I didn’t even register in my mind that the bases were loaded before I stepped up to bat, which is probably why I didn’t feel any pressure before I scored four runs with one swing of the bat.

That was an amazing moment for me, especially as a freshman — nowadays, I make sure to check how many runners are on base before I step up to the plate — but my favorite softball moments don’t consist of home runs and walk-offs. They’re the moments I spend with my team in the dining halls, on the bus to games and taking selfies on the beach in California.

I believe my mother will make it out of this unbelievable situation healthy once again, but if anything, it’s taught me to take nothing for granted.

I trust that whatever is going on in my life, it’s there for a reason and it’s going to make me better. Whether it is hardship or adversity, I’m facing it for a reason. I can sit in my room and sulk about my situation or I can enjoy this last year that I have, and that makes me more excited for the future. I get to enjoy this really cool time with my teammates, and I have a bright future because of opportunities Georgia Tech offers.

I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my future yet. Although I am preparing for life after college and life after softball, much of my mind has been on the present, for more reasons than one.

I do know that I love marketing. I might go into strategic brand management, be a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech or return to work in Spain somewhere down the road. This time next year, I don’t know where I’ll be. But I do know I’ll be a stronger person because I’m determined to grow through every positive and negative experience I face.

And if I ever have any doubt, I will look to my older brothers, who are both successful in their careers. I will look to the useful advice my father has given me over the years. Finally, I will look to the incredible courage my mother has shown through the toughest of times and I know I’ll be alright.


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