Wow. Kyle and Jeff visit with Leah Amico, 3x Olympic gold medalist in women’s softball. She shares part of her Olympic experience and passion for the sport of softball. This is a tease for her upcoming appearance at the Huntsman World Senior Games opening ceremonies. Don’t miss this one, check out Huntsman World Senior Games Active Life podcast

Kyle Case:
singing)

Kyle Case:
Hello, and welcome to the Huntsman World Senior Games Active Life. My name is Kyle Case, and I'll be your host on this amazing journey as we attempt to help you get the most out of your life. Joining me in the studio today is my copilot, Jeff Harding. Jeff, how are you doing today?

Jeff Harding:
I am on pins and needles, Kyle, I'm so excited.

Kyle Case:
Oh, really?

Jeff Harding:
Yeah.

Kyle Case:
I'm excited too, and there are so many things going on. We are just mere days away.

Jeff Harding:
Just really hours.

Kyle Case:
Hours. You could count it down to hours.

Jeff Harding:
Well, it would be high hours, but hours.

Kyle Case:
It wouldn't fit on your hands.

Jeff Harding:
No.

Kyle Case:
But we're so close to the Huntsman World Senior Games.

Jeff Harding:
We are.

Kyle Case:
We have got the venue secured. We've got the supplies, I hope, all ordered.

Jeff Harding:
Oh, really?

Kyle Case:
I hope.

Jeff Harding:
We have all the supplies ordered that we're going to have.

Kyle Case:
Yeah. What's here is what we're going to have.

Jeff Harding:
That's right.

Kyle Case:
We also have, just again, so many details in place. Our refreshments, our athletes are preparing. It's going time, which is awesome. In a couple of days, well over 11,000 athletes are going to converge on our community here in St. George, Utah, ready to compete and participate in the Huntsman World Senior Games. It's worth noting, Jeff, that this year we will set a participation record.

Jeff Harding:
Yes, we will.

Kyle Case:
Isn't that awesome?

Jeff Harding:
That's amazing.

Kyle Case:
Our previous record is 11,079. And while we don't know the final number right now, because we have roster changes and things that happen-

Jeff Harding:
For team sports, yeah.

Kyle Case:
... for the teams throughout the games, we've already surpassed that.

Jeff Harding:
Yes, we have.

Kyle Case:
So we've already broken a record. We're just now waiting to see how high we can go. And everything's in order. It's time to celebrate.

Jeff Harding:
It is. And on an interesting side note, we set a record on stuffing our athlete welcome bags yesterday. We got it done in-

Kyle Case:
Record time.

Jeff Harding:
... record time. We had a record number of volunteers helping. It was just huge. Go to our Facebook page and you can see a picture of the volunteers stuffing welcome bags for the athletes.

Kyle Case:
Amazing. Amazing. That's facebook.com/worldseniorgames. And we... We couldn't do this without the-

Jeff Harding:
Oh, no.

Kyle Case:
... without the volunteers, for sure. One of the great things about the games is that it is a celebration, as I just said.

Jeff Harding:
That's right.

Kyle Case:
A celebration of fostering worldwide peace, health, and friendship. It's certainly a celebration of active aging and sport and activity for athletes, but the great thing about the games is that it's a celebration really for everyone.

Jeff Harding:
It is.

Kyle Case:
And so I want to touch on just a couple of events that you don't have to be an athlete to participate in, and you want to make sure that you do participate in them. Don't miss these things. And I'm going to work backward.

Jeff Harding:
Okay.

Kyle Case:
The first one I want to talk about is our concert and celebration.

Jeff Harding:
Yes.

Kyle Case:
That is a free show.

Jeff Harding:
A free concert.

Kyle Case:
Free concert. It takes place in the Burns Arena at Dixie State University. The gates open at 6:00 and the show starts at 7:00, and it's going to be amazing. We've got Joel The Band providing the entertainment. It's a Billy Joel tribute act. He's heralded as one of the best acts paying tribute to Billy Joel. So if you like Billy Joel, and seriously, Jeff-

Jeff Harding:
Who doesn't?

Kyle Case:
Who doesn't like Billy Joel? The guy's a musical genius.

Jeff Harding:
That's right.

Kyle Case:
If you like the music of Billy Joel, you cannot miss this show. It's Tuesday, October 15th, once again at Dixie State University's Burns Arena. That's where they play basketball games.

Jeff Harding:
That's right.

Kyle Case:
It's free. Bring your family, bring your friends. Don't miss this show.

Jeff Harding:
But leave your basketball at home.

Kyle Case:
Leave your basketball at home because it's not going to be set up for basketball.

Jeff Harding:
That's right.

Kyle Case:
But come and have a blast. Now that's not all.

Jeff Harding:
No.

Kyle Case:
But wait, there's more.

Jeff Harding:
There's more.

Kyle Case:
Next week at Dixie State University's Trailblazer Stadium, we are going to have the spectacular Huntsman World Senior Games Opening Ceremonies. And I don't want to use that word lightly. It's spectacular.

Jeff Harding:
That's what our athletes tell us. It is spectacular.

Kyle Case:
It's such a great show. The show is just incredible. There's a parade of athletes who were the competitors from all around the world file into the stadium. There will be singing and dancing. Also, interestingly enough, featuring the music of the great Billy Joel. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Kyle Case:
So we have also what we call, affectionately, our Flag Extravaganza, where over 80 nations who have been represented at the Huntsman World Senior Games are acknowledged. It's an inspirational sight. We have fireworks, Governor Herbert is scheduled to welcome the athletes to the state, and the list goes on and on. But Jeff-

Jeff Harding:
There is more.

Kyle Case:
One of the most exciting parts of the show is that every year we have a special guest speaker that we invite to provide a little inspiration, maybe a little motivation. And over the years we've had some great speakers.

Jeff Harding:
Yeah, we have.

Kyle Case:
We had Jackie Joyner-Kersee. We've had Karl Malone. We've had Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner. We've had Joe Namath.

Jeff Harding:
Yes, we have.

Kyle Case:
We've had some big names in the sport. And Jeff, this year is no different.

Jeff Harding:
No. No, it's not.

Kyle Case:
This year we have the opportunity to hear from a three-time Olympic gold medalist in women's softball, Leah Amico. Leah has been a standout player at every level: high school, she's a collegiate national champion, she's a Pan American champion, multiple halls of fame. And of course, that little event is known as the-

Jeff Harding:
Olympics.

Kyle Case:
... Olympic Games.

Jeff Harding:
Yes.

Kyle Case:
And as luck would have it, Jeff, Leah is joining us on the show today.

Jeff Harding:
Really? That's amazing.

Kyle Case:
You didn't know that.

Jeff Harding:
Well, I did. I was pretending.

Kyle Case:
I knew that you knew that. But Leah is joining us today on the show, and we're excited to visit with her. Leah, how are you today?

Leah Amico:
I am doing so great, and I'm so excited to be joining you all next week in St. George.

Kyle Case:
It is truly going to be an amazing show. Now you've had a chance to come to our community before, so you're at least familiar with the layout of the city, but I just think you're going to love what goes on during the World Senior Games. You're going to love the opening ceremonies, and I know that our community and our athletes are going to love the message that you have to share. You've done so many great things in your life, in the world of sport. And today, Leah, I just want to talk a little bit about maybe your athletic journey and kind of get an idea and a feel for how you got to the pinnacle of athletics, the Olympic Games. Let me just ask you this, just to start us off, Leah. Have you always played sports, even as a little girl?

Leah Amico:
Yeah. I was the firstborn in my family and grew up in Southern California and my dad loved baseball. So the first sport he signed me up for was softball. And I played softball and soccer and just happened to, from a young age, get involved in those two sports. In junior high, I would try basketball, volleyball, and I found quickly that softball and soccer were my two best sports.

Kyle Case:
Well, that's a good discovery to make. That's something that I guess is worth reaching that conclusion, right?

Leah Amico:
My basketball coach pretty much told me in junior high, "You know what? In this sport, you're like a fish out of water." And so I was athletic, so I started, but you weren't going to count on me to score a lot of points.

Kyle Case:
You were a presence on the court though, which was important. Every role has an important part.

Leah Amico:
That is right. That is right.

Kyle Case:
There are no small parts, just small actors, right?

Jeff Harding:
You know, if they had given you a bat, you might be able to hit the ball in the hole a little bit better.

Leah Amico:
That's true.

Kyle Case:
Possibly. So I like that you did try other things, though. I think that's an important aspect of sports, just that concept of trying. And you never know what is going to be your thing until you give it a shot. Obviously, for you, you said soccer and softball. And softball is the one that kind of project you out and into even super-stardom I would say. But before we talk about softball, which I do want to get into, tell me a little bit about your soccer. Did you play all through high school soccer or was that just a middle school thing as well?

Leah Amico:
I did. And there was a period when I was about 14 years old and I looked into select soccer and travel softball, and I knew I couldn't do both of those things. And so softball would open up more doors, but in Southern California, it was pretty competitive. I ended up being the MVP of the entire league that I was in Southern California during my senior year. And so I had a lot of success on the soccer field, but a lot more doors of opportunity did come up. And I, I did, I went to Arizona, and we'll talk about that I'm sure with softball, but I, in my mind, I wanted this. In my fifth year in Arizona, I wanted to try to walk onto the U of A soccer team because they were a new program only a few years old, but I ended up registering for the Olympics. So there were others... God had other plans for me. So I played softball.

Kyle Case:
Yeah, yeah. Well, that's awesome. And soccer's such a great sport as well. And holy cow, the United States has become, from a women's standpoint, a powerhouse in that sport, with a world championship now under their belts and a lot of great things that are going on. The World Cup, excuse me, I should say. But you mentioned softball. I mean, obviously for you softball been your sport. Your dad was a baseball player. He got you going right away. You played in high school, I'm assuming, softball.

Leah Amico:
Yep. Yep. Definitely.

Kyle Case:
And tell me, did you have a high level of success there as well, just like you have at every other level?

Leah Amico:
I did. I was a pitcher and so I had a lot of success both hitting and pitching. I was also the first baseman. And so it started with All-Stars and youth ball, and then when I was about 14 years old, 13 years old, I had a travel organization say, "Hey, we'd love to have your daughter play for us. We can't guarantee any position." But a year later we were at [inaudible 00:09:33] International, 52 teams from all around the United States, and our team took first place and I was the winning pitcher in the circle. And so I think for me at 14 years old, that experience kind of opened my eyes to, okay, there can be opportunities here. And that really, I would say, was when... here I was, I think after my freshman year in high school, and thinking about, okay, I would love the opportunity to play in college someday.

Kyle Case:
Wow, that's awesome. That's amazing. A National Championship at 14 years old. What an incredible experience.

Leah Amico:
It was. We were in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the games were aired on TV, and so here we are at 14 and these bunch of girls and just so excited to see our names and faces on the news. And a small community like that just wrapped their arms around us. And it was, again, for me just really like a jumping board to what I was going to be able to experience through softball.

Kyle Case:
That's a big deal. A big deal for sure. So you go ahead and continue playing through high school, and then you mentioned Arizona. Talk a little bit about what that was like to have that opportunity to play for such a prestigious and well-known and historic team like you did in Arizona.

Leah Amico:
Yeah. So I went to the University of Arizona on a scholarship, and Arizona had just come off winning their first-ever National Championship when they recruited me. The year before me entering them... I can't remember what place they got, but they got to the Women's World Series. And so they were just kind of coming onto the scene at that time.

Leah Amico:
And so I got there and I pitched part of the time. By the end of the year, I ended up being more like... When I wasn't pitching... We had a star pitcher, and I ended up being the designated player. So I would just hit in the games and that kind of... At first, I just thought, "Can I play with these women?" You're the big wig coming out of Southern California, but then you get to college and these women have experienced and they're so strong and you have so much to learn underneath them.

Leah Amico:
But we got to the Women's College World Series and the final at UCLA had... they were for sure a dynasty at that time. Lisa Fernandez, who I would go on to win three gold medals with, she was the senior, literally phenomenal pitcher. And I got the only hit off of her in the championship game. Then we had somebody on [inaudible 00:11:51]. She scored, and Lisa ended up pitching a one-hitter. Our pitcher pitched a two-hitter. So this is back in the day where pitchers kind of dominated. And we brought home the National Championship and to me, I thought there is nothing better in sports. I've done everything I could ever want to do in softball, you know, for my sport.

Kyle Case:
Well, that... I mean, a National Championship. That's got to be such a great, incredible feeling, and especially as a contributor. So that's your freshman year. And then you guys went on to continue to have great success in Arizona.

Leah Amico:
We did.

Kyle Case:
The University of Arizona, I should say.

Leah Amico:
Yeah. My second year we ended up winning it again, and that year was against Northridge. In my junior year, we got to the championship game. We lost to UCLA in the final, and then I redshirted actually for the Olympic Team my senior year, and I came back my senior year and we won a third National Championship. So three out of my four years we won it, and I was in the championship game every single year. So it was truly a phenomenal period, an amazing group of female athletes, and as well as being able to play for coach Candrea at Arizona was just a dream come true for me.

Kyle Case:
I can only imagine that it had to just be such an overwhelming and amazing feeling to be a part of that and contribute in such a way to that program. Now I have a couple of stats in front of me. I understand that you... Do you still hold the batting average, the single tournament batting average for the College World Series? Do you still hold that record?

Leah Amico:
I do still hold that record all these years from 1994. There was one year that somebody was tied with me in the championship series and she was from UCLA, and her name right now I'm not thinking off the top of my head, but I remember joking because she was just phenomenal and just playing unbelievable. They were playing... UCLA was playing against Arizona, and I was joking... At one point she tied me, and it's the last game of the year. And so she tied me and she's at .750 because I went nine for 12. Granted, she played better because she had more at-bats than I had, but we ended up... I was like, "I want to call the coach and just tell him to walk her. Can I call him and say, 'Just walk her, Coach. Then she'll be tied with me.'" But what's funny is she came up and she grounded out and then went just below me. And so I still-

Kyle Case:
Oh, wow. So you're still there.

Leah Amico:
I still hold the record.

Kyle Case:
And you just breezed over it, but I got to emphasize this. Your batting average is .750. That's amazing. Leah, that's incredible.

Leah Amico:
It was phenomenal. I don't know, I just was in the zone. You don't have many times like that as an athlete, and for me, I just... I don't know. Something came out. I look back and I looked at... I never knew this until years and years later because now I do some commentating for the Women's College World Series. I do radio for Westwood One. And when I was looking at record books, and I was looking at old, old Women's College World Series, three out of the four Women's College World Series I led the tournament in batting average. And I just thought, "How did that even happen?" Do you know? And I just... There was something about playing on that stage that it was truly the most amazing experience.

Kyle Case:
That is incredible. You're listening to the Huntsman World Senior Games Active Life, and we're visiting with three-time Olympic gold medalist, Leah Amico. We're talking about her college days. I want to transition now to the next phase. You mentioned that you did take a redshirt, an Olympic redshirt, in your junior year, you said, or your senior year?

Leah Amico:
My senior year. So yeah, I took that season off.

Kyle Case:
So talk about that. Talk about the experience of being invited to represent your country on the biggest stage of the sport, the Olympic Games. What is that feeling like and how did that come about? How did you find out that you were going to be able to be on that team?

Leah Amico:
So I had started being involved in that process after getting that winning hit off of Lisa Fernandez. I think I caught some eyes in that situation and so was invited to a tryout. I kind of made a B team, a second-team that the USA had to go to a Pan Am qualifier when they had the actual Pan Am team. So I was in this group of maybe 60 athletes or so that was being looked at. And so I went to multiple tryouts, and they called them Olympic Festivals, and so through that, that eventually allowed me to make one of the main USA teams the summer before the Olympics. And so I got to that final tryout. I think we had about 70 athletes from all over the U.S., all different ages. And I was 21, and just at that moment didn't know if I'd have the chance to make that team, but was going to give everything I could. And I was named one of 15 women on the first-ever Olympic softball team because softball hadn't been in the Olympics before 1996.

Kyle Case:
Right.

Leah Amico:
And so one of 15 women named to that, and truly just... That was the ultimate. I didn't even... I just had no idea, and I was so young. And I just have to say that when I had made that team, some women had represented the United States for a lot of years. There was still always a national team that played internationally, but some of these women, I was so thankful for their leadership. Dot Richardson, she was 34 years old, and here I am 21, and I just looked up to her. Michelle Smith, Lisa Fernandez, Sheila Dowdy. These women who had represented the United States for a long, long time and finally we're going to get the chance to do it in an Olympic Games. And here I was just coming on the scene, and so it was just such an honor to be with those athletes.

Kyle Case:
And what a historic opportunity to step onto the stage as well, as you said, the very first time that women's softball is represented at the games. So now, remind us, which year was that?

Leah Amico:
That one was 1996.

Kyle Case:
And that was in...

Leah Amico:
In Atlanta.

Kyle Case:
Atlanta.

Leah Amico:
Atlanta, Georgia. Yep.

Kyle Case:
And so that year, Team USA was able to win the gold medal.

Leah Amico:
Yes, we were.

Kyle Case:
Which is just-

Leah Amico:
We beat China.

Kyle Case:
Amazing.

Leah Amico:
Yeah, very big game. Very close game. Dot Richardson hit a home run to pretty much give us the win. And what was amazing was being able to have... being in America and having 8,000-9,000 fans in the stands for us, which is a big deal for softball.

Kyle Case:
Sure.

Leah Amico:
We don't play at as big a venue to some, of course, these other sports, but it was such a big deal. And to have them all cheering us on was truly... The pride you felt representing your country, it was so much bigger than me. It was so much bigger than my team. It was just for our country. It was phenomenal.

Kyle Case:
Which are such an incredible feeling and one that, frankly, not everyone gets to experience? But you didn't stop there. You were able to go on and continue to have some pretty incredible success. What was the next step? You guys win the gold medal. It's amazing. It's historic. It's the first time. It's a real leap forward for women's sports. There are so many things that are going on. What happened after that?

Leah Amico:
Yeah. And so for me, I was... I had one more year of softball at college, so I finished up competing, we won National Championship, I made the team, USA team the next summer. In the meantime, I ended up meeting my husband at a softball tournament and he was originally from Boston and lived in South Carolina. And I'm laughing, because it's at the softball field, of course, that this happened. So we get married. So in the meantime, I'm training. I finished up my degree, which was to be a teacher, but all the while I'm training for Team USA and so... and most of our competitions would happen in the summer. And you try out every single year, and then if you make the team, you compete that whole next year with them.

Leah Amico:
And so then it came... four years later there was another tryout. I made the 2000 Olympic team. And so that Olympics, I went to Sydney, Australia. Our team ended up... We were a big media story because we had, I think, a 112 game win streak happening and we lost three games in a row, and we were on the verge of not even competing for a medal because the top four out of eight get to advance and compete for the medal. And so it was a big story in that Olympics, but we pulled it together, fought our way, clawed our way back, and we ended up bringing home the second gold medal against Japan, who was undefeated that entire tournament.

Leah Amico:
And so that, to me, I tell people it was the softest... The gold medals, I don't know if people know this, but they're silver on the inside and they're gold plated. And that was the softest gold that they've used out of the medal, so it's the most scratched up. And I tell people, "That's okay because it's the one that I appreciate the most and was the hardest to get."

Kyle Case:
Wow. Well, it sounds like it. I remember that time when, again, as you said, you were on such an incredible streak and then you kind of hit just that little strip of bad luck there. But what a gritty, incredible, historic, memorable performance to come back and to beat Japan, who was... It's kind of weird that you're the defending gold medalist and yet you're kind of the underdogs going into that because Japan's undefeated and, again, just an amazing time and congratulations. But once again, that wasn't the last time.

Leah Amico:
Yep.

Kyle Case:
One more time.

Leah Amico:
Well, and so now I've been married a couple of years. I have two gold medals. I'm in my mid-twenties and I'm thinking, I still want to compete, I still want to represent the USA. And then... But I'm like, but I want to be a mom and so I thought, "Well, I'm going to try to do both if I can." So I took one summer off. I had my son Jake in 2005 or... I'm sorry, 2001 after the 2000 Olympics. And then I got out and had to train harder than ever before because at this point softball has now been in the Olympic Games, two Olympics. You have more athletes training, stronger, technology's getting better. There's just so much more knowledge out there. And so here I was in getting into my upper twenties and these girls are coming out just phenomenal out of college.

Leah Amico:
And so I had my son and I went to work. And a year after he was born, I found myself getting the winning RBI against Canada at the... Sorry, that was against Japan as well at the World Championship in Canada where we competed. And here, after we win, our team gathers on the podium and I go and grab my one-year-old little boy, Jake. And that, to me, was just this amazing experience of, "Okay, I did it. I made it myself back. Now I've got to get back to the Olympics."

Leah Amico:
And so that next Olympics was in Athens, Greece, 2004 Olympics. And that Olympics also was very, very special to me because not only was I married with now a little boy that I'm out there playing for them as well, but coach Candrea, Mike Candrea from the University of Arizona, he became our Olympic coach that time around. And he is truly like a father to me. I love that man. He helped me to become the player and athlete that I was, and I knew he cared about me more off the field than he did on. And so just to play for the USA with him was, oh my gosh, it was unbelievable.

Leah Amico:
And so there were four of us. Four of us that competed in all three of those, the first three Olympic Games, and so we brought home the gold medal. And that Olympics was a lot different in Athens, Greece. We ended up dominating. We went 9-0, we scored 51 runs in nine games, and we only had one run that we let up. And so that was pretty... Our coach's motto that year was, "We don't want to just win, we want to dominate." And we trained harder than ever before. He just had a new focus, a new mentality in saying, "Okay, how are we going to be the very best?" And he helped lead us.

Kyle Case:
Wow. Leah, I wish we had another hour where we could just continue this conversation, but unfortunately, we've run out of time. But let me say, this is not the last chance that you'll have an opportunity to hear Leah. Please come on out to our opening ceremonies on Tuesday, October 8th, and kind of get the rest of the story. Leah, thank you so much for joining us today.

Leah Amico:
Thank you for having me. I'm very excited [crosstalk 00:00:24:14].

Jeff Harding:
We're looking forward to meeting you in person.

Kyle Case:
We will see you next week.

Leah Amico:
That sounds great.

Kyle Case:
So Jeff.

Jeff Harding:
Yes, Kyle.

Kyle Case:
As you well know, athlete registration closed weeks ago.

Jeff Harding:
Yes, it did.

Kyle Case:
But don't despair. You can still be a part of the Huntsman World Senior Games. All you got to do is register to be a volunteer. It takes more than 3,000 volunteers to pull the games off, and you can be one of those all-stars of the games. It's very easy to register as a volunteer. All you got to do is visit seniorgames.net, click on the volunteer tab, and there are tons of volunteer opportunities that include both helping with the sports as well as helping in non-sport areas. There are lots of health benefits to volunteering, as we know. We've talked about that on the show. And we could use your help.

Jeff Harding:
And you'll get our eternal gratitude.

Kyle Case:
That's right. So hit seniorgames.net and register to volunteer today. One more reminder to join us at the opening ceremonies and listened to Leah Amico. It takes place at Trailblazer Stadium at Dixie State University. It's on Tuesday, October 8th. Gates open at 6:00 and the show starts at 7:00. It's going to be an amazing show. Don't miss it. Remember to tune in live next to and every Thursday at 5:30 PM mountain time on AM 1450 or FM 93.1 for the Huntsman World Senior Games Active Life. Jeff.

Jeff Harding:
Yes.

Kyle Case:
Our inspirational thought for the day comes from another Olympic champion.

Jeff Harding:
Cool.

Kyle Case:
Sanya Richards-Ross. She says, "Failure I can live with. Not trying is what I can't handle."

Jeff Harding:
Wow, that's amazing.

Kyle Case:
Until next Thursday, stay active. Bye, everyone.

Kyle Case:
(singing)