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COLUMNISTS

Sun, August 15, 2004

Nightmare to a dream


Jackie Lance left home at 15, quit high school, moved in with her boyfriend and got hooked on drugs. It hardly seemed the formula to one day star in the Olympic Games.

"I did marijuana, hashish, alcohol, and after a while I got into heavier drugs. I was a pretty messed up kid," said Lance, talking candidly about a life she has since turned around. "I never went through formal rehab, though. I was lucky."

Softball was her rehabilitation: That and a coach who just wouldn't give up on her.

"I quit playing ball, I quit school, I quit just about everything in my life," she said. "I couldn't play when I was high, I wasn't interested. But my coach would phone me every week and he would ask me to come back. He kept on calling and calling. He was pretty persistent.

"And after a long time, I finally said yes."

She said yes to softball, moved out on her troubled boyfriend and moved in with the family of her coach, George Oeuvray in the Vancouver suburb of North Delta. Still, it wasn't easy.

"I went back to school but that didn't work out," she said. "I kept falling in with the wrong group of kids. I quit high school a second time.

"At George's house, I had a lot of responsibilities. He wouldn't let me live there if I didn't tow the line. And if I wanted to get back into softball, I had to do it.

"If it wasn't for him, I don't know where I'd be now. Him and softball. Softball has meant so much for me. I feel lucky to have gone through what I've been through and survived and gotten to this point."

This point was a two-run double yesterday to score Team Canada's only runs in its opening game of the Olympic softball tournament. The victory for Canada was significant enough but almost every day represents a kind of victory for the 30-year-old outfielder.

"Someone told my mom when I was pretty young that if I continued to improve I could one day play for Canada," she said. "That's not the kind of things you think about until you're older. I think once I decided that I wanted to play ball, I made a choice.

"I've made a lot of bad ones. That was a good one. I needed something to challenge me, something to motivate me. Nothing else was working. The challenge was there and it was a distraction from all the other stuff. Once I had a focus, I just kept on going."

Jackie Lance had to take adult education courses to finally get her high-school diploma.

And one day, she showed up at a summer softball camp where she saw a sign that informed the players that softball would become a medal sport at the 1996 Summer Games for the first time.

"And I thought, I want to be an Olympian," Lance said. "I always had this fascination with the Olympics from the time I was a kid. I thought I was going to be a skier. I was enrolled at the Nancy Greene ski school and I idolized Olympians."

Instead of making the 1996 Olympic team, she ended up with a junior college softball scholarship in Missouri. "I wanted to get as far away from boyfriend as possible," she said. From there, she transferred to New Mexico on a scholarship, where the girl who barely got through high school ended up with degrees in both criminology and psychology.

"Two degrees and I don't end up using either of them," said Lance, who is married now and living in Albuquerque, N.M. "I end up working as a fire fighter. It's like a lot of things. You end up starting in one direction, going in another."

And if there's any life lesson in all this?

"You wake and every day is different," she said. "You can start all over again if you want. The choices are up to you. Don't be afraid to dream."


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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