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Our Stories: How She Overcame Fear

Sept. 16, 2015

“Our Stories” is a feature that provides first-person stories from current Georgia Tech student-athletes on their journey through academics, competition, and life once their athletic careers are over. These young men and women represent the ideals of what it means to be a STUDENT-athlete at Georgia Tech.

These are their journeys in their words.

By Samantha Pierannunzi
Junior, Business Administration major

Here’s a little fun fact about me – my biggest fear is failure. Not just failure in general, but the overall feeling that you disappoint someone because you’re not good enough. This is ironic though because I play softball, a sport designed so that to even be considered the best of the best, you fail at a rate of about 60 percent. Former Oklahoma slugger Lauren Chamberlain was considered arguably the best hitter in college softball in her career and her batting average topped off at .395, which means she failed more in her career than she succeeded. So you might wonder, how can you possibly play a sport that requires you to fail and still be afraid?

Plain and simple: you can’t. I had to learn that the hard way.

My freshman year started out pretty typically for a college athlete. I came in with high expectations of wowing my teammates and coaches, starting the first game, and kick-starting a career filled with accolades. I didn’t think I was some spectacular talent. I definitely had my insecurities about my capabilities, but I knew I had a work ethic that would get me wherever I wanted to go. I came in with a great deal of fear though: a fear of the unknown, a fear of not fitting in, a fear of not being good enough to start or even play, a fear of not being successful academically, and most of all, a fear of living my dream and yet not feeling satisfied because my satisfaction would all be based on stats and results.

Let’s start from the beginning. I picked Georgia Tech because it was the best of both worlds. I verbally committed to Georgia Tech in the fall of my junior year, shortly after the softball team had just won its third straight ACC Championship. I also grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, only about a 30 minute drive from campus. So, I was aware of the prestige that the Institute held academically. My official visit rolled around and confirmed to me how great a decision I had made. The team was awesome and campus was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I found out a few months before I was set to move in that the program was going through a coaching change, which like with any coaching change, comes the opportunity to be a part of the rebuilding process. Needless to say, I was ready to get on campus and get started.

I came to Tech as a biomedical engineering major, and while I knew I was capable of being a part of the engineering program, I was definitely nervous to find out whether or not the Georgia Tech reputation was all that it was made out to be. So naturally, as the school year started, I had to learn to adjust to the fast paced lifestyle of a student-athlete, the rigors and demands of Georgia Tech, and the independence of living on my own for the first time. All of my fears seemed to come true.

I remember when I began telling myself I was in over my head. I had just taken my first Georgia Tech exam, which just so happened to be in freshman chemistry. I checked my grade as soon as they were posted, seeing as I was still optimistic that I did fairly well… I never thought I’d see the day when I got a test grade lower than any batting average I’d ever had, and yet freshman year was full of plenty more surprises.

I finished my first semester with a terrible GPA. I decided to change my major to business administration because I knew it was an area in which I would excel, but never really considered it before because I thought I wanted to be an engineer.

Side note: This turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve made while in college. Not only was the business school just recently announced to be the 15th best undergraduate business program in the nation, but the network of former student-athletes and female student-athletes that are now in the professional business world is unthinkable and I’ve already come in contact with people I would never have even dreamed of before!

Going into my first spring semester, I reached notably the lowest point in my softball career. I struggled. We hadn’t even played a game yet and I wanted season to be over so I could try to figure myself out. I couldn’t get comfortable in my swing and every time the ball came to me in the field I would panic and make a mistake. At this point, there were a lot of people that could tell I was struggling. My coaches all talked to me and poured into me; they spent countless hours off the field trying to help me get comfortable again. They set me up with a sports psychologist named Dr. Kensa Gunter. I never got the chance to tell her this, but she changed my life. Halfway through the season, she gave me a quote that resonated with me, and I wrote it on my whiteboard in my room. To this day it still hangs there and reminds me of the bigger picture:

“In every setback is an opportunity at personal growth.” –Anonymous

Embrace each day as a chance to get better. Not just in softball, be a better teammate, student, friend, person, and daughter. Failure is a beautiful thing because it is a chance to make yourself better. If you don’t fail, you can never grow. Georgia Tech taught me that. My coaches pushed me towards that, my teammates exemplified that and lead me towards that. But Georgia Tech forced me to figure it out for myself.

I earned my starting position two weeks later and finished my freshman season with a .367 batting average.

Being a student-athlete here has taught me a very important lesson. The rest of my life starts each day I wake up. Each move you make shapes the person that you are in 20 years when you are in the working world. I wake up at 6 a.m. each morning and run shuttles to make myself and my team better, so that in the seventh inning of a tied game, I can be strong enough to help my team win. But with each rep I have to push myself a little harder and do a little bit better, even when it hurts or I’m tired or school is hard. And each time I finish through the line and get better, that gives me confidence that I am stronger and I can work harder. And one day, when I am leading the marketing department for a company, and the CEO comes to me and asks me to get an important project done, I know that I will be able to give them quality work to the fullest extent, even when I am tired and have a lot on my plate, because Georgia Tech is preparing me for that.

I am proud to wear Georgia Tech on my chest, and work beside 16 young ladies that give me everything they have every day. I am not afraid to fail because I know that no matter what this season throws at us, we can take it and have enough pride to stand back up and show the letters on our chest. And one day, we can look back at how we’ve grown and all that we’ve overcome and it will make all of the accomplishments so much sweeter.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I would not be where I am today without the unfailing love and courageous hard work of my parents. Never in my life have I met more genuine and gracious people. I pray that I can be half the role model to my kids one day that you have been to me. I also want to thank my wonderful brothers and sister-in-law for all the support they have given me, and my sweet grandparents for being my biggest fans. Family is everything.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Georgia Tech fans, alumni, donors and the Atlanta community who have supported our softball program. Thank you!

Georgia Tech Athletics Staff: I will forever be grateful to the endless resources and support that the Georgia Tech Athletic Association provides to their student-athletes. The immense network of people that I am able to meet and learn from is one of the many reasons why our place is so special. Within the athletic association, I specifically would like to say a special thank you to Theresa Wenzel. You have been such an amazing role model and motivator to me, my teammates, and all female athletes, and you drive me to be a better all-around person each day. I take pride in the business woman that I am beginning to develop and I credit that to you. Kele Eveland, thank you for the time that you have spent helping me develop as well. My whole life I have looked up to female athletes as role models for motivation for the future, but when you came here, you gave every female athlete something to aspire to be in the professional world.

My Coaches: Coach Ishi, you’ve been where we are and never hesitate to help us manage this student athlete lifestyle. We look up to you a lot for that. Thank you so for all the extra time you put in to make us better and thank you for the personality you never fail to bring to practice. We appreciate it Coach.

Coach Erin, you’ve only been a part of our family for a little bit now but I can already see the positive changes that your energy and competitive nature bring to the table. We are really lucky to have you so thank you for being a part of it all.

Coach Jake, you took me under your wing my freshman year and developed me into the player I am today. I could never say thank you for all the extra hours that you have put in making my teammates and me better, and I will always respect how dedicated you are to the game and how knowledgeable you are about hitting. I’ve always appreciated your perspective and I look forward to the two more years I get to learn from you.

I don’t think I’ve met someone more passionate about softball and coaching than Coach Hoerner. You have the biggest heart out of anyone, and the hours and hours you pour into our program are a true testament to that. You have so much love for each of your players and staff members and are a role model for us both on and off the field. I am very grateful for the value that you place on family in your program. Because of this, you have taught me to place even more importance on my family in my life and that is something I can carry with me even when softball is done. Not many coaches can have that kind of an impact on their players but you have. Thank you for challenging us every day to be better. This is our year, Coach.

My teammates: To the people that work harder than anyone I know day in and day out, the people that give me more love and support than I deserve, the people that I am fortunate enough to make so many wonderful memories with, and who have helped me through more than you all will ever know… to my crazy, hilarious, compassionate, loving, beautiful teammates… thank you. You are my best friends and my family, you have my back and I have yours, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you guys.

Support student-athletes like Samantha Pierannunzi by making a gift online, or by calling the Alexander-Tharpe Fund at (404) 894-5414. Since 1949, Alexander-Tharpe Fund (A-T) has served as the primary fund-raising arm for the Georgia Tech Athletic Association, bringing in gifts and commitments in excess of $22 million annually for endowment, facilities, and current operations.


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