Representing Adrian College Softball, Jaime Lightner Relishes Time Spent in Netherlands This Summer

The 2018 USA Athletes International (USAAI) softball team that toured Netherlands in June. (Team photo provided; head shot: Corey Graham)
The 2018 USA Athletes International (USAAI) softball team that toured Netherlands in June. (Team photo provided; head shot: Corey Graham)

ADRIAN, Mich.--After receiving a bachelor's degree in psychology during Adrian College graduation ceremonies to end April, Jaime Lightner (Eaton Rapids High School) was so excited for the next chapter in her life. She learned that she would spend a week in the middle of June to represent the United States to play softball in Europe with USA Athletes International (USAAI).  

"I received some information from my AC coaches about USA Athletes International and then got the invitation to go on their tour," the social work minor said. "I got a connecting flight in New York City where I flew out on Monday, June 11, with one coach and 11 other girls from multiple states and different colleges. Upon arrival in Netherlands, we met up with our head coach and our guide for the next five days."

Lightner became instant teammates with fellow players from NCAA Division I programs Longwood University (Farmville, Va.), Division II teams Saginaw Valley State University (University Center, Mich.), Fairmont (W.Va.) State University, Alderson Broaddus University (Philippi, W.Va.) and D-III squads Bethel University (Arden Hills, Minn.) and Delaware Valley University (Doylestown, Pa.). The USAAI travel team was coached by Christy Connoyer, out of D-I St. Louis University. 

USAAI played five games against different teams from all over Netherlands, including a meeting against Olympia at the field where Team USA played Japan in the 2014 Women's Softball World Championship in Haarlem. Lightner said it was an honor to play at the same venue where the best softball players in the world battled.

In Amersfoort, Lightner and Company put their skills on display against a local team of all-stars before an audience of aspiring youth softball players. After the game, both squads conducted a softball clinic for girls ages 7-14 that covered topics like agility, drop steps, mental toughness and batting tips.

"It was a great trip and I learned a lot. Softball isn't much different besides their fences and fields (which are farther from home plate and bigger dimensions)," says Lightner, who noted the most important aspects of the experience for her was the friendships she forged with so many. "Europe likes to speed up the game so they have small rules like (the batter) always keeping the foot in the box and no throwing the ball around (by the defense after an out). They really want to keep the game going where as in America we tend to take our time play our game and go slow."

During the athletes' spare time, they visited numerous towns to take in the historic sites, shopping and conversing with locals. Their itinerary included stops to Bad Bentheim, Germany (castles) and, of course, Netherlands towns of Borne (Small Sacred Church), Oud Loosdrecht (historic hotel), Amsterdam (Downtown, Heineken Experience, tattoo shops, canal cruise), Apeldoorn (Apehill Zoo), Levsden (Concentration Camp), Volendam (fisheries, motorized bikes factory, stroopwafel, popular swimming spot), and Amstelveen (Clara Maria Cheese & Clog Farm).

"It was very similar to ours in America. Everyone was super friendly and loved to share more about their country," Lightner said about Netherlands' culture. "The biggest challenge was communicating with the younger children during the clinic we hosted, but there was a translator to help out. It was super cool to try to explain and show softball to children who don't understand English. It really made you have to rely on what you know about softball so you can show them for them to mimic you. It was a great experience being able to see Amsterdam, Holland and more cities. Sometimes we even got to learn a few words in Dutch.
 
"In Amsterdam, the residents bike everywhere so bikes always had the right a way not pedestrians or cars."
 
Lightner said that playing internationally was a smooth transition. "Although I was playing with everyone I've never met, it seemed normal, like a travel ball game...we've known everyone for years. Everyone got along so well."
 
For Adrian Bulldogs coach Ashley Marinacci, it wasn't a surprise to her that her former student-athlete made the most of her summer experience and jumped at the chance to play and teach the game of softball in another country.
 
"Jaime was a leader on and off the field. She is one of those athletes who always put in the hours beyond what is asked of her. Jaime is someone who always puts others first. She gives back to the community by volunteering as an intern youth specialist at a nearby juvenile detention center, as well as previously serving as a mentor for Adrian College's first generation students," Marinacci explained.
 
"When looking into the future of Adrian College Softball, Jaime Lightner is someone we describe. She knows what it takes to be successful on and off the field, and understands that the program is bigger than just one person. Her getting the opportunity to play overseas and educate the youth outside of her community is something remarkable and I know is very grateful for the opportunity."
 
As a senior infielder for the 2018 Bulldogs, Lightner set career highs with 36 games played and 18 runs scored. She tied her personal-record of 17 runs batted in that she established as a junior. She led the team with eight stolen bases and was second in hits (26), RBI and runs.
 
Now that the tour has concluded, Lightner developed another opportunity to broaden her horizons--both culturally and extending her competitive softball career.
 
"I spoke with the coach from Olympia who said he's going to help me play, when I am ready, in New Zealand from October to March. So I'm going to work this summer until then to save up for money to live in New Zealand, playing in their club system over there," Lightner explained. "They help me find a job and maybe a house or an apartment to rent if a host family can't be found."
 
For her, it was about playing and teaching the game she loves while learning about another country's culture abroad.
 
USA Athletes International, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to giving amateur athletes and coaches the opportunity to participate in international Olympic-style sporting events throughout the world, while also allowing them to broaden their educational and cultural knowledge of the world through the experience.

Since 1992, USAAI has been a global leader in educational/sports tours. Providing recommended student-athletes with the opportunity to participate in the sport they love on the international stage and providing them with cultural opportunities that will allow them to learn about the location at the same time. A USAAI tour is an educational opportunity facilitated by an athletic event.

#AdrianBulldogs #GoDawgs #GDTBAB (photos provided)