This is the seventh interview from our Athlete of the Month (AOTM) series in partnership with TrueSport. To nominate an athlete or learn more, explore our AOTM headquarters.
To overcome adversity means 'to face challenges or difficulties head-on.' Adversity is a keyword in this month's athlete interview.
SportsEngine and TrueSport sat down with first-generation Nigerian American professional soccer player and TrueSport Ambassador Amobi Okugo as he interviewed our latest youth Athlete of the Month—softball player MaKena Rodgers. Both athletes are no strangers to making lemonade out of lemons.
"Growing up, my parents sacrificed so much for my siblings and me to get to the places we are now," Amobi stated in a recent interview with KindHumans. "Some of the people I played with who were just as talented didn't have that opportunity to stay in the sport or make a career out of it. I started the Ok U GO Foundation to take advantage of the platform I was given and impact children that are less fortunate."
Amobi's Ok U GO Foundation gives children from low-income backgrounds the resources to help better themselves and their communities. Like our youth athlete of the month, Amobi's goal is to use his platform to inspire and impact others.
Meet 13-year-old MaKena Rodgers
MaKena suffered a traumatic brain injury falling out of a bunkbed on a family vacation at the age of 10. After missing half the school year from her injury, Makena's parents were told by doctors that she would never be the same. Two years later, MaKena, or as her softball team refers to her as 'Mighty Mouse,' is now an accomplished athlete. She is currently a left-slapper with lightning speed and the starting pitcher for Washington Firecrackers. MaKena has even increased her speed by 10 MPH in a single season. Dive into learning more about these two outstanding athletes in the interview below.
Amobi: "I heard you play multiple positions in softball. Do you have a favorite?"
MaKena: "That's hard, but I would definitely say I like playing. Pitching is definitely my favorite, but I do enjoy middle infield."
Amobi: "How do you prepare for a big game?"
MaKena: "Definitely before just trying to get into the focusing until, like, the mental aspect, get the mechanics going."
There is superstition...
Amobi: "So I play soccer, and when I first started, I was very superstitious. I had to call my parents before every game. Rumor has it that softball players and baseball players are pretty superstitious."
MaKena: "My pregame routine is to get dressed and head to the backyard to hit a few with my dad. Then, I always have to hit a few with my team before each game. Another superstition is never stepping on the field's white line—ever."
Amobi: "Wait, why not?"
MaKena: "It's just bad luck. You can never step on the white line before a game; something always happens."
Amobi: "Oh haha."
MaKena on facing adversity
Amobi: "Is there any adversity that you're most proud of overcoming and any advice that you'd have for someone, you know, that looks up to you coming up?"
MaKena: "I had a head injury, which was difficult because I had many restrictions to follow."
(MaKena's mom, Stephannie, jumps in)
Stephannie: "MaKena fell off a bunkbed at a well-known theme park. She would up with two brain bleeds, a fractured skull, a dislodged eardrum, and a severe concussion—a traumatic brain injury (TBI)."
Stephannie stated that doctors told their family MaKena would not have the same functionalities in life. MaKena's family was told they would have to make some adjustments even after a year.
Stephannie: "And despite it, she works that much harder, and it drives her that much more. And she's not big on wanting to tell her story. But as she's matured, she realizes that her story can help someone else realize that they can get through something tough."
Amobi: "That's amazing."
MaKena: "Because I had to be out of school for six months with limited stimulation, I felt like I was trapped in my house. But then, when I started getting back into softball after my injury, it definitely helped."
Amobi: "That's what it's all about. Obviously, we've talked heavily on how softball impacted your life. What are some other activities that you like to do?"
MaKena: "I am definitely softball 24/7, but when I am not, I love hanging out with my friends."
Amobi: "That's awesome. How big is family to you and your life?"
MaKena: "I have two older brothers and two older sisters, and they're probably the people I spend the most time with, along with my parents. Every weekend we go to tournaments, and they're always there to support and watch me play. Family for me is everything."
Amobi: "Growing up, did you have anyone you looked up to in the softball world?"
MaKena: "Definitely, Sis Bates (player for the Washington Huskies). I am a lefty slapper, and so is she. And she is small (like me). I had the opportunity to meet her a few times, and she is such a sweetheart."
Amobi: "That's so cool. What's one question you would ask her if you ran into her again?"
MaKena: "I would ask her how she balanced school and softball."
Amobi: "Great question. That's a huge deal when you're growing up. I missed three months of my senior year of school because of traveling for soccer. So understanding balance, time management, priority, and focus is something in which you are already showing good skills. That's a great question to ask."
What does the future hold?
Amobi: "A year from now, what does that look like? What does the future hold for you?"
MaKena: "I'll be in high school, so I am looking forward to high school softball. I play 14 dynamic right now, so technically next year I will be playing 16."
Amobi: "I know your mom said you are humble. So you're really good—that's what you're telling me (laughs)."
Amobi: "I know lefties are rare commodities; I heard you're playing up. I heard adversity, and you can bounce back. So, let the records show we're dealing with an athlete of the month for a true reason here."
What advice do you have for other young softball players and athletes? Any blindspots?
MaKena: "Probably the hardest one would be trying to strike a balance between school and softball. Make sure you get your homework done, so you have time with your family."
Amobi: "Yeah, there are a lot of sacrifices, but at the end of the day, it all is worth it in the end. So keep climbing, keep grinding, and as you know, the reward is worth the squeeze. Why should someone consider softball as a sport to play?"
MaKena: "I think it teaches you many things like leadership and teamwork and how to deal with wins and losses. Also, just the friends that you make (in softball) are great, and some of my closest friends are through softball."
Turning the tables
(MaKena's turn to ask Amobi a few questions)
MaKena: "What does it mean to be on "loan" to a team?"
Amobi: "Great question. So when I was with Portland Timbers, they had a second team, and I had just come off injury. It's a good way to get games under your belt so that you can get a game fit before returning to your team."
MaKena: "Oh, that's cool; what's your favorite memory as a pro athlete?"
Amobi: "Ooh, so many memories. So my first game was in Seattle away, and the stadium was packed with 60,000 fans. My parents came to the game as well. We were losing 30 by the time I came on for my debut, so the game didn't really matter. The fact that I got to play that game was like a culmination of all the sacrifices my family and I made. I accomplished my dream, you know, being able to play. You won't realize it now, but all those drives your parents made going to games instead of attending social events like birthdays matter. It puts it into perspective."
Speed Round 'This' or 'That' with MaKena
(Answers are in bold)
- Softball or Baseball
- Peanuts or Sunflower Seeds
- Netflix or Cable
- Pie or Cake
- Infield or Outfield
- Water or Gatorade
- Pancakes or French Toast
- Always early or Always Late (Time)
- Road trip or Fly on an Airplane
- Run 15 Laps or Do 15 Perfect Pitches
- Write an Email or Write a Letter