By GRACE TAFOLLA
IOWA CITY, Iowa – University of Iowa junior pitcher Lauren Shaw’s running jump into a canal in Vietnam this summer transcended into a moment she’ll remember for the rest of her life.
Shaw’s 8,400-mile journey to Vietnam ended with a renewed appreciation for life, and of course, softball.
She was selected as one of two athletes at Iowa to join Coach for College and venture to Vietnam for three weeks. Coach for College is an international service-learning program. Student-athletes from the United States join Vietnamese college students to teach academics, sports and life skills to younger Vietnamese students.
“I taught math, baseball, and life skills while being in Vietnam, but I left feeling like I was the student,” said Shaw. “I took a lesson away from every encounter, conversation and day I was in the classroom.”
For Shaw, a statistics major and an Iowa pitcher, teaching students math and baseball comes naturally.
“None of them had heard of baseball before and watching them light up with joy after getting a hit or watching the smiles on their faces as they crossed home plate made me realize how great the sport truly is,” said Shaw.
Softball has been an important part of Shaw’s life, but injuries created obstacles the first half of her career at Iowa.
Leading into her freshman year at Iowa, the left-hander underwent knee surgery hoping to alleviate pain she experienced throughout her high school career.
But that surgery wasn’t a success.
Shaw continued to struggle with pain throughout her freshman campaign. In May 2018, she decided to undergo a more extensive knee surgery.
The surgery had no recovery promises tied to it, prompting thoughts about medically retiring.
“The idea of medically retiring crossed my mind many times,” said Shaw. “Sometimes the pain was too much, or the injury’s toll was sometimes too strong for me to handle mentally.”
But there was always a “what-if” associated with hanging up her cleats, and Shaw didn’t want to regret giving up on a sport that has given her so much, including her summer in Vietnam.
Shaw took a medical redshirt last season and worked as a student assistant, traveling with the team and helping out with pitch charts and in the bullpen.
Shaw’s patience and trust in her rehab last season proved worthwhile.
Vietnam marked the first time Shaw ran pain-free in two years, renewing her love and appreciation for softball.
Her trip also renewed her appreciation for life in the United States.
When Shaw wasn’t in the classroom teaching, she had the opportunity to explore what it was like to live in Vietnam.
“These children were the happiest children I have ever encountered, and they lived in small homes and slept on bamboo,” said Shaw. “They would ride their bikes to our guest house to visit and just sit with us and teach us a few games they play.”
The trip culminated with Shaw jumping into a canal on a hot day at one of her students’ houses.
“Jumping in felt so refreshing and it made me feel so free,” said Shaw. “Every moment I had in Vietnam I felt free and appreciative of everything in my life.”
After arriving back on campus in August, she began pitching again.
On Feb. 7, Shaw stepped in the circle for the first time in 641 days, recording a win over East Carolina at the Kickin’ Chicken Classic.
Shaw’s progress didn’t stop there. Following dominant performances at the B1G/ACC Challenge on Feb.14-16, she was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week after throwing two complete games with 18 strikeouts and a 0.00 ERA.
Shaw’s summer she’ll always remember is turning into a season she’ll never forget.
Shaw and the Hawkeyes are headed to Honolulu, Hawaii, this weekend to participate in the Hawaii Invitational. For more information on Shaw or the team, head to hawkeyesports.com.