Linton Makes Mustangs Proud On, Off Softball Diamond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feature Story:
Linton Makes Mustangs Proud On, Off Softball Diamond
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

There’s a common denominator amongst every championship roster: success depends on the strength of each individual player and coach, and on the talents of the entire off-field staff. As the old adage goes, there is no ‘I’ in team.

Look no further than the Western Mustangs women’s softball program for proof that there is strength in numbers. Look closely, and you’ll see that the heart and soul of the team is first baseman and captain Claire Linton, winner of the 2019 Jeffrey Reed Courage Award.

Since the program’s inception in 2002, Western women’s softball has won 15 conference titles, 11 Ontario titles and five national championships.

Claire Linton (second from left) with 2018 Ontario championship trophy

During the past four seasons, the Mustangs have captured four conference, four provincial and one national championship. And according to head coach Pete Lemon, winning would have felt shallow without Linton on the team during that span. In fact, Lemon said the 21-year-old Brampton native and her incredible story of courage inspired the entire team to greatness, on and off the field.

“Claire is a quality individual,” Lemon said. “She’s a natural leader, and that’s one reason why her teammates selected her as captain. She’s not a natural athlete, but nobody on this team worked harder than her. In fact, she has had to work hard at every aspect of the game, and often, through adversity, figured things out for herself through that hard work and perseverance.”

Claire Linton

There have been plenty of challenges thrown at Linton during her four years at Western University. Yet through it all, she exemplified everything the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award stands for, and proved to be a worthy winner of the fourth-annual award.

Established in late-2015, the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award, as presented by LondonOntarioSports.com, is given to a Southwestern Ontario athlete – amateur or professional – who inspires others by demonstrating courage on and off the playing field.

As a disabled athlete with numerous skeletal and spinal deformities, I was given no chance of playing competitive sports and very little chance of walking properly past the age of 50. But in 2000 and 2001, I was a member of the London Majors of the semi-professional Intercounty Baseball League, and at age 39 pitched as an IBL rookie. Today, at age 57, I am a scratch golfer and ambassador for numerous golf industry members.

My story, Diamond Dream: Jeffrey Reed’s Inspirational Story of Hope and Determination, can be read at http://www.jeffreyreedreporting.com/speaking.htm .

Just over three years ago, my wife Beth and I decided to act on our belief that success is shallow without giving back – the same mentality which, thanks to Lemon, has been inherited by the Mustangs women’s softball program. In creating the award in my name, we are perpetually allowing others with stories of courage to inspire countless others.

Our past winners are: FC London and Fanshawe Falcons soccer player Chelsea Zavitz (2016); former Fanshawe Falcons female athlete of the year Ali Vlasman (2017); and recent Western nursing graduate Danielle Austin (2018). You can read their biographies at https://londonontariosports.com/jeffrey-reed-courage-award-bios/ .

The Jeffrey Reed Courage Award encourages you to dream big and never stop dreaming; work with mentors and mentor others; learn from failure; give 100 per cent at all times; and never quit. Linton has checked all of those boxes.

Each spring, LondonOntarioSports.com awards the winning athlete with a plaque and $1,000 award at the web publication’s annual banquet recognizing and celebrating his or her courage in sports and in life. Like Linton, each athlete must write a 1,000-word essay nominating themselves for the award.

Linton played minor fastball with the Brampton Girls Softball Association before beginning studies at Western. During her rookie season in 2015, the Mustangs captured their conference title, a provincial title and finished second at nationals.

Working as a camp counsellor before what was to be her sophomore season, Linton suffered a serious injury which would change her life forever. A torn calf muscle not only prevented her from playing that season, but it also proved to be a catalyst in bringing out her best traits: never shying away from a challenge; always facing incredible odds with dignity and grace; working tirelessly to beat the odds; and at the same time, giving back to others.

Claire Linton

Lemon said the girls at the summer camp “idolized Claire. They really looked up to her. And there, just like with our team, her leadership skills were evident.”

Instead of feeling defeated and shying away from the Mustangs softball team, Linton fully embraced the challenge, and concurrently further embedded herself within the softball program. She relied on crutches for four months, put in countless hours of physiotherapy at Fowler-Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic and, with much-needed moral support from her coaches and teammates saw results that would eventually see her return to the playing field as a much-improved varsity athlete.

During her rehabilitation, Linton never missed a game nor practice, and was part of every Mustangs women’s softball fundraiser. Most of all, she was an inspiration to her team and an involved member of the community.

“I had lost an entire season, and I was out of shape,” Linton explained. “More than ever, a starting position seemed out of reach. But from the date I was cleared to practice in January 2017 until the start of the season in September, I trained to catch up.”

At first, running one kilometre was a big challenge for Linton. But she ran every day, and by training camp she was able to run 10 K. She lost weight gained while recovering from her injury, and gained more muscle. And her mental game was much improved. Said Linton, “I was more powerful than I was before the injury and came back for my third year stronger than ever.”

During her sophomore season on the bench, the Mustangs had repeated their accomplishments of the previous season – first in conference and at provincials, second at nationals. In 2017 during Linton’s third year, they swept conference, provincials and nationals, and Linton was presented with the Mustang Award for exemplifying the ideal values of a Mustang student athlete.

“Balancing varsity athletics and being a student who tries to achieve an honours specialization in medical sciences, as well as a minor in psychology, has been challenging. It has taken many long days of work and dedication. But over the past four years, I have achieved more than I could have asked for,” she said.

Claire Linton

This past season, Linton was named team captain and the squad’s starting first baseman. She impressed on the field with a .424 batting average and stellar defence.

Each of her four years with the Mustangs, Linton was named an Academic All Canadian for maintaining an above 80 average in the classroom while competing as a varsity athlete.

“My teammates and I encourage each other to study hard. This is passed onto incoming players every year to that they, too, put academic achievement as a priority. In fact, I’ve worked harder for my grades than for anything else,” she said.

No one has seen how hard Linton has worked on and off the field during the past four years than her teammate, pitcher Sara Contini.

“On and off the field, Claire is a role model in terms of her positive attitude, her work ethic, and how she has executed when faced with challenges, as well as her dedication to studies. She’s an all-around good role model. And I believe her story is very inspiring – she never gave up, never called it quits,” Contini said.

“Claire really improved her play from her first year to her third, and obviously part of that was her injury – working hard in the offseason and setting goals.”

Video highlights of Linton’s play with the 2018 Mustangs is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lEhXG_2kiM&feature=youtu.be.

“Western softball is not just about achievements on the field, but also it’s about giving back to our wonderful, supportive community,” Linton explained. “Through the fantastic efforts of our coach, Dr. Peter Lemon, we have the opportunity to give back to the community and to instil a love of sport in local youth.”

Despite the Mustangs’ on-field success, they must take off their cleats and beat the pavement looking for dollars to fund their program. But as Linton explained, that doesn’t stop the team from giving back to the local community.

For example, on Friday, Feb. 15, Western women’s softball will send underprivileged kids to Budweiser Gardens to watch the London Knights take on the Erie Otters. Community members are encouraged to purchase $25 tickets for each of the kids, some of whom will tour the Knights locker room, sit in the penalty box during the pre-game and have a chance at winning an autographed team sweater. All of the kids will enjoy pizza during the game.

The Mustangs are also heavily involved in running clinics for minor softball teams. Said Linton, “Clinics are by far my favourite thing about being a member of the Western women’s softball team. Being an athlete has taught me so many valuable life lessons. It has kept me healthy, and has given me life-long friends.

2018 Ontario champion Western Mustangs

“Knowing that some girls feel pressured to drop out of sports because they’re not ‘girly’ is crushing for me. In addition to helping younger girls develop their skills on the diamond during our clinics, I make sure to share with them who I am, what successes I’ve enjoyed and how softball has played a role in this. I hope I inspire girls to continue playing the sport, because I know from experience how much they can gain from competing, being a teammate and giving back.”

With four years of post-secondary education about to end, Linton is in the midst of sending applications to medical schools, and is applying to variety of graduate programs. And while the costs associated with a university education are mounting, Linton has offered an unselfish gesture: she will give half of her Jeffrey Reed Courage Award cheque to the Mustangs women’s softball program.

“My team is comprised of a very driven and dedicated group of players and coaches. However, we receive minimal funding which makes success all the more difficult to achieve. The team has given so much to me, and I would love the opportunity to give back to the program,” she said.

LondonOntarioSports.com is honoured to have the opportunity to tell Claire Linton’s story. Just as it has inspired her teammates, I’m sure it will inspire all those who read about her continuing journey.

And without a doubt, when Linton hangs up her cleats, future Mustangs will be inspired by her story, too.

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Jeffrey Reed has been a member of the London sports media since 1980. He is publisher and editor of LondonOntarioSports.com, and LondonOntarioGolf.com. Reach him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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