Team USA Softball Star Cat Osterman on Coming Out of Retirement to Help Next Generation Win Gold
The two-time Olympic medalist will take the mound for Team USA once more in Tokyo in a comeback that brings the athlete full circle — especially considering she announced her retirement in 2015.
Osterman, 38, tells PEOPLE that after earning a gold medal in Athens in 2004 and a silver medal in Beijing in 2008, she thought her days of Olympic glory were through, considering the sport was voted out of the Games in 2005.
But when it was announced that softball would return for Tokyo, Osterman changed her tune, and in 2018, confirmed she would lace up her cleats one last time to attend to some "unfinished business."
"[Friend and former teammate] Kelly Kretschman was visiting and just kind of put the bug in my brain to think about possibly playing again," Osterman says. "And then the more I thought about it, I thought I could still throw at an elite level. And if I was able to prove that I could compete with the best of the best in the game right now, I thought I should un-retire and come back and help this younger generation make a run at a gold medal."
It helped, too, knowing that the Games would take place in Tokyo, as it was an Olympics loss to Japan in 2008 that snapped Team USA's 22-game winning streak and landed them a silver — and not gold — medal.
"There's a small part that's a redemption piece," Osterman says. "But the majority of it was almost a responsibility to the program. I feel like I was born and raised in this program, [and] I felt like I needed to come do my job as a veteran and come back and help them navigate the journey to a gold medal."
Of course, her return to softball hasn't been smooth sailing. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Osterman has had to dedicate a whole extra year to training, much of which had to be done separately from her teammates due to social distancing guidelines.
"We didn't get back together until January 2021, which was a really long time for a group of athletes that have been named and know that they're going to go compete in an Olympic Games together to not be training, to not see each other, to not be interacting," she says.
To keep the team chemistry alive through quarantine, Osterman says Team USA took part in what they called "TED Talk Tuesdays," where each week, a player would share a presentation on a topic they were passionate about.
Valerie Arioto, for example, offered advice on self-care, while another teammate had everyone buy ingredients for monkey bread that they all (virtually) baked together.
By summertime 2020, restrictions had loosened, and Osterman was able to join some of her teammates in Florida and on Athletes Unlimited, a women's pro softball league.
When the Tokyo Games were officially pushed back a year, Osterman wasn't shocked, and had already discussed the possibility with husband Joey Ashley.
"Personally, I expected the delay," she says. "My husband and I had already talked about it, and he was like, 'You're going to do what you got to do. You're going to keep going for this.' Him and my stepdaughter are extremely supportive. And I was all in."
This time around, Osterman's time on the field will be worlds away from her first foray into Olympic glory, as she's gone from being the youngest person on the 2004 team to the oldest on the 2021 team.
"Monica [Abbott] and I are the only two with Olympic experience," she says. "We have a whole new team with a lot of younger athletes who approach the team in a more laid-back manner, or I should say kind of a more fun manner than we did with our teammates in '04. Things were serious business for us, and not that it's not for this team, but the intensity is different. It's a fun intensity, a loose intensity, where, before, it was a very strict and focused intensity."
Osterman says that although it's been an adjustment, she and her new teammates have had some "great moments" — and she's also thriving in the role of mentor.
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"I'm getting to fully share what the experience is like, and what they can expect," she says. "I can tap into both Olympic experiences and share it, and talk to them about what you want to make sure you remember, or what parts you'll think about and remember later on versus what parts you won't."
Once Tokyo is said and done, Osterman says she plans to finish out her career with Athletes Unlimited later this year, then go back to Austin and work part-time for RBI Austin, an MLB-administered program designed to give youth from underserved and diverse communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball. She also got her real estate license in November of last year.
"I'm just going to try to give back to the game a little bit," she says, "and then try my hand at something brand new, too."
To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer on NBC.
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