After Illness, Gina Snyder Goes Pro With Athletes Unlimited
ROSEMONT, Ill. — Of the 61 players who have found their way to Chicagoland for Athletes Unlimited’s 2021 season, Gina Snyder may have taken the most circuitous route.
As a junior at Purdue in 2017, Snyder battled a debilitating illness that made it unlikely she would ever pitch again in college, let alone professionally. But after returning to her hometown of Tucson and finding her way onto the pitching staff at Arizona, she achieved what her doctors told her was impossible.
SA caught up with Snyder to hear about her journey and discuss her path to Athletes Unlimited.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Softball America: What was your softball upbringing and recruiting process like?
Gina Snyder: I went to Arizona games a lot. One of my first memories was hearing so much about Jennie Finch. From a really young age, softball was constantly in my ear. I was very under-recruited. I was very picky knowing I had such a great school in my backyard. I got a couple of my first offers my sophomore year, and then eventually I realized I needed to make a decision. I didn’t commit until the fall of my senior year to Purdue. I thought I would want to do engineering.
SA: What was your experience like competing for the Boilermakers?
GS: It’s definitely an academic school. I found out pretty quickly I didn’t want to do engineering. It was just too hard for me to balance softball, which came first for me. Purdue was the kind of school that you definitely needed to put education at the forefront. So I struggled a lot in school, which then affected my softball. It was very stressful for me. It was a really good experience, but at the end of the day wasn’t quite my fit.
SA: In terms of your illness, when did you first start to notice something was amiss?
GS: It was January of my junior year, right before the season started. It started out as headaches. They weren’t going away. I had to miss practice, I wasn’t eating and it got to the point where I couldn’t speak. I went down to talk to the trainer and I couldn’t form sentences. I went to the hospital, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They just pumped me with all the drugs they could find, and eventually one of them worked. I don’t remember much of my stay in the hospital just because I was incoherent at the time. My family has told me stories. I was very reckless, I was ripping off the IVs and I wouldn’t sleep.
SA: What was it like readjusting to normal life and regaining your sense of self?
GS: The recovery after the hospital was the hardest part. I had to relearn how to walk and wait for things to reconnect in my body. And then all the softball things. I had a really hard time throwing overhand. My goal was to get back in time for Big Ten play, about a month or two after the hospital, but I obviously did not get back in time. It was hard to feel the sport slip away from me.
SA: What did it take after you got back home to Tucson to get back into softball?
GS: I came back home and watched the postseason, and I hated not playing. I couldn’t wrap my head around being done. I have a mound in my backyard, so I worked throughout the summer and then eventually felt confident enough to try out for Arizona. I was pleasantly surprised at how quick I got it back. Arizona had just graduated three pitchers—Danielle O’Toole was one of them—so they definitely needed some arms, and I was going to go to school there anyway. The timing helped me a lot.
SA: What was it like pitching for your hometown university that you’d grown up rooting for?
GS: It was awesome. One of the biggest things I got out of going through that injury was to take softball seriously, because I’ve known what it felt like to be without the sport. At Purdue, I took it seriously, but I didn’t realize how much I truly loved competing and loved pitching. Every rep I got, I took advantage of, even if it was just a bullpen or scrimmage.
SA: After graduating from Arizona, you went right into coaching. How did the opportunity come up for you to play in Athletes Unlimited?
GS: It was very last minute for me. One of the pitchers who had already been signed wasn’t able to come out, so they needed a pitcher pretty quickly. They contacted me Friday and the report day was Sunday, but I was like, ‘absolutely.’ I had played a little bit over the summer with Team Florida against Canada and Mexico and I held my own, and some of the player executive committee were on those teams.
SA: Most of the players here have been All-Americans or Olympians, so are you at all surprised to be here playing with such big names?
GS: I am a little surprised just because it happened so quickly. But I look around and it’s all players I’ve played with or against. I’m one of seven Arizona alumnae out here, so that definitely gives me a lot of comfort. I definitely didn’t expect to be here, but I’m not super starstruck. I’m competing and I’m excited to be here.