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Latina Legends

Lisa Fernandez

(United States, 1971– )
Two-time Olympic gold medalist for the United States softball team who broke numerous softball records during her career as a pitcher before becoming a prominent pitching and hitting coach.

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In the very first softball game Lisa Fernandez pitched, she walked twenty players. Her team lost 28-to-0. She was only seven at the time, but the softball bug had bit. With her mother’s support, she decided to dedicate herself to learning all she could about the sport. She practiced every chance she could. Every time she stepped on the mound, she was determined to show improvement. If she walked twenty batters one day, the next game she would walk no more than eighteen.

Practice made perfect. Fernandez became a two-time Olympic gold medalist as a pitcher for the United States softball team. As one of the world’s most recognized softball players, Fernandez’s not-so-secret weapon is the windmill, a style of fast-pitch. When she is on the pitcher’s mound, her arms whip around, her foot pushes off the rubber mat, and she lets loose pitches that have been clocked at an average speed of 68 miles per hour. In baseball, that is comparable to 101 miles per hour.

Despite setbacks along the way, she persevered. One coach had told Fernandez when she was twelve that she would never be a champion pitcher because her arms were too short. She took that as a challenge.

She might be a natural, but the love of softball and her talent might just be hereditary. Her father, Antonio, was a semi-professional baseball player in Cuba. Her mother, Emilia, played slow-pitch and coached Fernandez’s first softball team. Both parents thought it fun to play softball with the young Fernandez and whet her appetite for the sport.

Emilia could only go so far. While Fernandez improved steadily, Emilia had to use bigger and better gloves to warm her up. Before long she added a mask, chest pad, and shin guards, protecting herself in full catcher’s gear. It was not enough. Emilia feared Lisa’s pitches, which had become too fast for her to handle. Antonio took up the position behind the plate, but he eventually gave it over to a private pitching coach. The training opened new doors.

In high school, Fernandez had seventy shut-outs in a row. As a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student and player, she was a four-time NCAA All-American and pitched her school to two NCAA Women’s College World Series Championships.

Her batting average by her senior year led the nation, along with her ninety-three wins and seven losses as a pitcher. Her career records at UCLA covered the gamut, with record singles, hits, walks, runs scored, pitching wins, and no-hitters.

Fernandez played for the United States softball team and earned two Olympic gold medals, one in 1996 and the other in 2000. She has also earned medals in the Pan American games, the ISF Women’s World Championship, and South Pacific Classic, among others. On the United States national softball team, she earned three more gold medals, and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) named her a Top 10 Athlete of the Year.

Playing in the Amateur Softball Association, Fernandez was Female Athlete of the Year in 1999. She helped her team make it into seven ASA Women’s Major Fast-Pitch National Championships. Two-time ASA Sports Woman of the Year, nine-time ASA All-American, and six-time MVP (most valuable player), Lisa broke records in all areas of softball.

Currently a coach for her alma mater, Fernandez is a hitting and pitching expert. Honored by MANA, a national Latina organization that mentors young Latinas, Fernandez was recognized for her contribution in the field of sports.

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Excerpt from: THE BOOK OF LATINA WOMEN: 150 VIDAS OF PASSION, STRENGTH, AND SUCCESS By Sylvia Mendoza

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