This is the fifth interview from our Athlete of the Month (AOTM) series in partnership with TrueSport. To nominate an athlete or learn more, check out our AOTM headquarters.
"Whether the team is winning or losing, she is the most vocal—cheering for her team on the bench or in the field," says Lehua's mom, Netia "Tia" Ulugaono.
Lehua (pronounced ley-hoo-ah), known by her teammates as 'Hua,' is a 13-year-old fastpitch softball player for the Washington Ladyhawks. Starting in the sport when she was just eight years old, Hua is nominated for her outstanding sportsmanship on and off the field.
Hua balances her sports life as an eighth grader with high school math classes, three rambunctious little brothers, a busy baking career, and a volleyball schedule—all while maintaining a 3.94 GPA.
Grades and playing time have always been the talk around school sports, as it can be a lot of pressure for athletes to balance both. NCAA research suggests the average female student-athlete is at a 3.66 average GPA.
"Hua helps out other students in school as much as possible. She believes in always helping a fellow player on the field with their game or after class with an assignment," states Tia.
Hua sat down with TrueSport Ambassador and Olympic Track Sprint Cyclist Mandy Marquardt—someone who also is an expert at balancing challenges and sport.
How do you balance school and sports?
Hua: Math just came naturally to me. We would normally finish work early and have time to do the assignment, and I would complete everything in class. I get it from my dad.
Mandy: Wow, I wish I had that because I am taking statistics right now. Sometimes, I just need to zen out to get the work done. What do you do to just zen out or clear your mind?
Hua: I like listening to music or playing with my three brothers. The twins are three years old, and the oldest is six. They like throwing things; it's good practice. The oldest just started t-ball.
Mandy: Haha—that is good practice!
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of sports?
Hua: I like baking and sometimes sell some of my baked goods. I actually just had a friend pick up her mom's birthday cake I made.
Mandy: That's awesome that you can just decompress from your busy schedule and focus on things you love.
How do you prepare for a big game?
Hua: I love listening to hype-up music. A big game is basically like a little game; it just means more. I try to prepare for it like it's not a big deal.
Mandy: That's awesome. What do you do for your teammates if they're nervous about a big game?
Hua: I try to dance with my teammates to get them hyped up and ready.
Is your hair pink? What's the story?
Hua: My teammates are actually the reason my hair is pink—I bet them that if we win certain games during the PGF Softball Tournament, I would dye it pink.
Mandy: Look at you sticking to your word. The start of a tradition maybe, ha.
Hua: Yes, haha.
What has been the most challenging moment of your softball career?
Hua: I would say my injuries. I had a few injuries this year that cost me a few months of playing time.
Mandy: I think that’s difficult, too. It’s also about finding that balance or time to recover. Recovery modalities are so important. I remember neglecting that in my younger years, but it's so important.
What advice would you give athletes just starting in their sport?
Hua: Focus on school first. You do not want to lose your love for sport, and it's always stressful to focus on practice when you have a test the next day.
Mandy: Yeah, that's great advice. It's important not to get burned out. I have found that finding the community and the right help matters. There's no one size fits all routine for anyone. In many ways, it has made me a better athlete.
Hua: [to Mandy] What does higher education mean to you?
Mandy: Oh! Good question. Right now, I am working on an MBA with a focus in strategic leadership at Penn State. I also partner with local hospitals on diabetes initiatives in the community. For me, it's an opportunity to expand and challenge yourself. It's also an opportunity to network.
- Career highlight (so far): Home run during the USA Softball All-American Tournament in Oklahoma.
- Favorite sport to play (other than softball)? Volleyball
- Favorite sport to watch? Softball
- Favorite athlete/team? Pitcher, Jordy Bahl, University of Oklahoma Softball.
- Go-to pre-game snack/post-game treat? Pineapple
- Dream place to visit? Italy
- Favorite Softball position? Pitcher
Songs Mandy and Hua recommend helping hype you up before a big game or race:
- Mandy's rec: Peru Remix by Fireboy DML
- Hua's rec: Best Friend by Doja Cat