You already knew Carrie Underwood was a force to be reckoned with onstage, but what you may not have known is that she was a sports star before she was a superstar, playing softball, basketball and cheerleading as a teenager in the years before that fateful American Idol audition. So when Dick’s Sporting Goods, which carries her activewear line Calia, offered to donate $500,000 together with Underwood to girls’ sports programs across the country as part of their Sports Matter Foundation, she knew her first donation would be a tribute to where she came from: the playing fields of Checotah, Oklahoma, to fund girls’ sports initiatives there.
She documented her trip back to her hometown to talk to teenage athletes about how important it is to stay active in sports programs, and chatted with us from tour rehearsals about the trip, how teamwork still plays a big part in her life and how she squeezes in workouts now.
Why did you want to get behind girls’ sports programs as a cause?
When they came to us and said, Would you like Calia to be involved, it was a no-brainer. Growing up, sports was such a big part of my life. I wouldn’t call myself great or any kind of an awesome athlete or anything, but there was such camaraderie, all the lessons we learned — it was great to be able to learn how to win together, learn how to lose together, learn how to support each other and play up each other’s strengths and help each other. There are a lot of life lessons in sports, and that’s something that’s getting lost nowadays as a lot of schools, the arts and sports are the first things that start going when they doing budget cuts. It just seemed like a really great thing to be involved in, giving some confidence to young ladies at a really important time in their lives.
What was “your” sport in particular?
Definitely softball, I loved softball so much and played for nine years. We played slow pitch in the summer. I played fast-pitch for a little bit in high school but ended up having to quit the team because I kept missing practices due to my singing. I think I made the right choice! But I’m so glad I got those years playing.
What’s a favorite memory from your softball days?
The tournaments were a lot of fun! We always had a lot of stories from that. Being out, playing two or three games a day. It was fun, like being away at camp, because you guys were all playing together and having fun, being outside.
You got to go home to Checotah to film the video – do you get to go back often? What’s the first thing you do when you get there?
My parents still live there in the house I grew up in, so I don’t get to go back as much as I would like to see them, because my schedule is so crazy. But I do get to go back a few times a year, and I really don’t do much of anything! I just want to go hang out with them, spend time with my parents. Being outside is important to us, even if we’re just sitting on the porch swing, getting to enjoy the outdoors.
Did you parent leave all your softball trophies in your childhood room?
No! That changed a long time ago. It’s an extra bedroom now. I was sad — I was like, I’m the last child! You should just leave it! Didn’t work.
Many women who loved playing team sports growing up find it’s hard to keep that dynamic going when they’re older. How do you keep it up in your day to day life?
In what I do, it is a team effort. Everything we do is a team effort. Being out on the road, everybody’s got their own roles and you have to work together or the show’s going to fall apart. Some nights are great, and while fortunately we never “lose,” some nights are a little harder than others. It’s definitely, you learn those lessons young, and being a part of a team — even though we’re not hitting balls or dribbling anything or running (well, I’m running on a stage!) — there’s a lot of the same principles that still apply.
Do you ever squeeze in any pickup softball games on the road?
I tried a few years ago to be a part of a summer league softball league and that was fun! I didn’t get to play in many of the games just because I was traveling. It was a lot of fun, I would like to do that again, if things ever slow down. Which, I hope they don’t! But that was a lot of fun. Now I’m running around after a toddler [son Isaiah, 18 months] so that’s my sport.
There were so many amazing young female athletes during the Olympics this summer, and there was a lot of discussion about the media focusing on the girls’ appearance or downplaying their accomplishments. What would you say to young athletes who are watching that?
It’s little disappointing because they’re out there representing our country and giving it their all, and they should be very, very proud of themselves and how far they’ve come. I would want young ladies to know it’s less important — you always want to feel good about yourself — what’s important is playing your hardest.
And similarly, if you were talking to a young girl who was feeling frustrated or overwhelmed and wanted to quit sports, what would you say?
Everyone reaches a point in their life where they have to choose, like I did, but if things are just kind of hard, that’s another thing that might be in our society now is the urge to quit. I wish I had managed to find more time to stay and play softball a little longer. Someday you really won’t have time to do fun things like that — you’re going to have a job, you’re going to have a family, and things get a little harder. So go out and enjoy that time. You gotta enjoy it while you can!
You’ve got a bunch of jobs that keep you busy – but what’s been the coolest thing about having an activewear line?
I love seeing fan reactions, people supporting each other on social media. People come to my meet and greets, and they say, Oh my gosh, it was motivating. I’ve lost this much or I’ve done this, I can lift this, I can run this or whatever. That’s what it’s all about, women empowering women and clothes to help you feel good along the way. And it’s been really fun to see the line evolve. We’ve only been at this a year and a half, but to see what people are gravitating towards, [and ask] how can we make this better, how can we make our customer, our woman, feel better about herself? It’s been a really fun journey. And I get to wear it! I get all the clothes first. I have a couple pairs of jeans if I have to put jeans on, but I have an incredible wardrobe [of comfortable clothes] myself!
Did you play sports growing up? How do you use those lessons today?