“I was telling someone the other day that it would be nice to be able to come home after practice and be able to relax like most of the other girls, but then I’m like, ‘You know what? The alternative, coming home to Gregory, is even better,’” she said.
Becoming a mom has also changed Gano’s perspective on how she plays softball. Gone are the days of dwelling on a bad game; once she’s back with Gregory, everything else fades away.
“After a game that I’m not super happy with, I get to come home and he’s a great reminder of what’s really important,” she said. “It’s made me detach myself from my performance and looking at myself as what my performance is.”
Gano has played softball professionally since 2017, starting her career in the Italian Softball League before returning to the U.S. to play for the Chicago Bandits of National Pro Fastpitch. She was also a member of Team USA from 2018 to 2019, winning a gold medal at the Japan Cup and bronze at the USA International Cup. Because of COVID-19 and giving birth to Gregory, she hadn’t competed at the professional level in well over a year until Season 2 of Athletes Unlimited.
Keeping up with her softball training after becoming a mother was anything but easy. Gaddy was playing basketball overseas with Promitheas Patras of the Greek Basket League, and Gano was working on her Master’s in Business Administration. She and Gregory spent seven weeks in Greece with Gaddy last fall, where Gano would do homework with her classmates at 4 a.m.
“I was like, ‘Just do it and it’ll all work out, it’ll be fine. Sleep? I’ll figure it out,’” she said. “It was a little bit of a juggle.”
What helped her stay on track to play professionally again was her University of Washington family. The Husky blood runs deep, and head coach Heather Tarr did everything she could to make sure Gano had the opportunity to continue her training.
“Coach Tarr was super supportive,” Gano said. “I got to go practice with them a few times. One time Sis Bates was there and she wasn’t practicing that day, and she watched Gregory the entire practice. So, it’s like, those are the things that are really cool to see. When you hear ‘It takes a village,’ it really does, and I got to experience that firsthand.”
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The village grew even more when Gano arrived at Parkway Bank Sports Complex for Athletes Unlimited. She was suddenly surrounded by 60 other athletes who would do anything to help her and Gregory.
“The girls, they come over every single day,” she said. “There are, like, three girls that come by every day and will watch him while I shower, or just spend time with him. Those are the things where like, I don’t care about how I do here, honestly. It’d be great to perform really well, but what I’m taking from this is the love that was shared this entire time. That’s been the most meaningful.”
Being a new mom and a professional athlete is a balancing act, and Gano has learned a lot in the last 14 months. Her message to other moms is simple: you’re doing great.
“As long as we’re doing our best, we’re doing a great job,” she said. “I say that this is the hardest easiest job in the world. It is so hard, but it’s so easy when it gives you this much purpose.”
To Gano, it is the culture of love and support at Athletes Unlimited that has made her return to professional softball so feasible. She feels comfortable pumping wherever she needs to, bringing Gregory into the locker room and taking him onto the field with her during pregame. No matter what she has to do, she knows that the athletes and staff will support her in any way they can.
“We’re kind of conditioned to think that once you have kids, life completely changes – which it does, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t have things for ourselves. We need to make sure that we’re filling our own bucket and being around people who support us,” she said. “There are definitely communities and places that you can be that help you thrive, and [Athletes Unlimited] is one of them.”
The final weekend of Season 2 is quickly approaching, but this is not the end of Gano’s incredible community at Athletes Unlimited. Regardless of where she finishes on the leaderboard, she’ll leave Rosemont with something much more valuable than a medal: 60 women who will have her back—and Gregory’s—for life.
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