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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Softball player reflects on sexuality in sports, teamwork
By MACKENZIE MURTAUGH
2019-06-26

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From morning to night, Chicago Bandits pitcher Aleshia Ocasio commits herself to two things: softball and benevolence.

During the season for the National Pro Fastpitch team, she bustles away during training, practice and under the ballpark's lights. During off-season, Ocasio can be found out of the field and into communities, using her skills to coach and train young athletes, in an effort to help mold the skills of the future of professional softball.

Since graduating from the University of Florida last year, Ocasio has not let any post-grad lull hit her. This past spring, Howard University hired her as an assistant coach to the school's softball team. Ocasio honed in her skills to bring the confidence she knew the players had; they just were not able to achieve it without a little encouragement. Coaching and giving back are things that Ocasio sees herself continuing to do as she gets further into her professional career.

"I want to be that person for younger athletes that I needed when I was younger," Ocasio told Windy City Times.

Her work with Howard helped their winning percentage increase by over 100 percent. Ocasio takes pride in assisting alongside the other coaches with this victory, but her humble nature doesn't let her take credit for their success.

"I want to help prepare them for the future and to empower them to make them believe that they can do whatever they want as long as they work hard and put their mind to it, up their work ethic and live out their truth," Ocasio said.

For Ocasio, working with aspiring professional athletes is an empowering moment for both her and the young athletes. She desires to give back to the sport that brought her to where she stands now, and she wants to replicate those coaches who prepared her for a professional career.

"There's just so much to be learned in this world, and it's not going to be butterflies and rainbows," Ocasio said. "[I want them to] just live out their truth. I have found myself in my journey, and I want them to stay true to who they are when they grow up and how to work and be successful."

As an openly bisexual woman, Ocasio finds some solace in softball, as she says that many individuals in the sports community are also a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

"Playing in this sport and being around the same people every day who a lot of identify as LGBTQ+, I'm blessed to say that I've been comfortable with the process of coming out and being in an environment where I feel supported."

Along with the frustrations and hardships of a certain type of social life projected by college campus culture, Ocasio felt some discomfort in expressing her sexuality. Her biggest obstacle, similar to other LGBTQ+ individuals, was coming out as bisexual—the orientation she has always identified as. Ocasio came into her own confidence somewhere during college with the help of her closest friends and allies. Now, Ocasio is in a relationship with Natasha Cloud, a player on the Washington Mystics of the Women's National Basketball Association ( WNBA ). The couple seems to be very busy, as Cloud currently qualifies for the WNBA's All-Star game and the Puerto Rican national team qualifies for next year's Olympics—a landmark that Ocasio called one of her proudest moments.

Her earliest introduction to the sport was when her mother took her to the local ballpark to watch her cousins play. After this, she began playing Little League when she was seven-years-old. Ocasio's passion for softball came after she was "grandfathered in"—her words.

"You just build so many different relationships, not only with your teammates, your coaches, the people who you meet just playing this sport," Ocasio said. "Softball is a team sport, it's different from tennis or from running a marathon. You have got to work together and do the same thing every day."

The transition from the college game to professional was something that was surprisingly easy for Ocasio. From one day balancing training, practice, games, homework and a social life, the occupying life of a student-athlete is not something to be overlooked.

"Here, you have a commitment from when you wake up until you go to bed at night," Ocasio said. "Meetings, team meetings, the sport itself. [In college], the fact is that you go home and you have to do homework, so I think it's been a little less stressful without having the school aspect."

June 16 marked Ocasio's one-year anniversary since she went professional and joined the Bandits. When asked about what this past year has taught her, she reflected on her growth as not just an athlete but as an individual.

"I've learned how to work on my own, how to get what I need to perform to the best of my ability."

The Chicago Bandits' schedule can be found at chicagobandits.com/ .


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