(Editor’s note: With college sports being idle for the foreseeable future, we are starting a new Q&A series that highlights former UA student-athletes. Enjoy!)
Gina Snyder grew up in Tucson but never envisioned pitching for the Arizona Wildcats. She never thought she would be good enough.
The Sahuaro High product proved herself wrong in 2018 when she joined the program as a walk-on, though not before surviving a major health scare.
Snyder pitched at Purdue for two seasons before a debilitating illness left her in critical condition, inflicting her with severe headaches and sapping her coherence.
Snyder gradually recovered, but had to withdraw from Purdue to be closer to home. Doctors told her she would never play softball again—Snyder couldn’t even throw a ball at that point—but she didn’t give up.
Snyder relearned her mechanics and spent hours pitching to her father in the backyard, progressing to the point that she earned a tryout with the Wildcats. (Her full recovery story can be read here.)
Snyder not only made the roster but pitched in some important games for her hometown team. In 2019, Snyder’s redshirt senior season, she went 5-0 with a 1.95 ERA, logging wins over the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles and the eventual national champion UCLA Bruins.
Snyder also became the first-ever collegiate pitcher to throw a shutout against Team Japan, the No. 2 team in the world, when the Wildcats beat them 1-0 in an exhibition game on Feb. 23, 2019.
I caught up with Snyder, who graduated with a general studies degree, to see how life after Arizona softball has been treating her and what she took away from her UA career.
Here’s the Q&A, which has been lightly edited for clarity.
RK: What have you been up to since your last game?
GS: “I took my first summer off (laughs), which was different. It was weird. I spent some time in Columbus, Ohio...then I got back to Tucson and they opened up the Hitting Factory in August, so ever since then I’ve been giving lessons there and been there full-time. Just recently about a couple months ago, I started working for NSR, which is National Scouting Report. From there I help high school athletes get to college. So it’s kind of like an NCAA compliant agent.”
RK: What do you like about what you do now?
GS: “Being able to give back. I feel like I never really knew what I was going to do after college. But knowing that I am able to stay so deeply invested in the sport has been really fun. And seeing it from a different side. Sometimes it can be frustrating when you’re not in it, like watching these games or watching my girls. You want to just go suit up and go help them out on the field. So it’s been different but it’s been fun. I’ve kind of found a new task here.”
RK: What’s the hardest part about not being a student-athlete anymore?
GS: “I’m a people person, so not being around people all the time, I took that for granted. So now I have to call people, I have to make an effort to see people. Not being around a team environment is really different. Because I’d wake up from 6 a.m. and till like 6 p.m., even later, I’d always be with the team because we have to be.
“Our mandatory activities are basically hanging out with each other all the time, so that was definitely hard for me. And then this is probably the one that everyone says—working out and holding yourself accountable. That was definitely different. Because the workouts, I would go really hard for a little bit and then I would be like, ‘oh why am I even working out?’ I feel like purpose is a deep word, but it’s kind of like there’s no purpose. I’m not working out for anything, why would I work out? What am I doing with my life?”
RK: Now that you have had time to look back on your career at Arizona, what stands out about it?
GS: “Obviously I had such a different path there. I got the sport taken away and then I was able to get a second chance at it. So just I think being able to say that I left it all out on the table. Every game I didn’t take it for granted and I think that’s kind of like what’s going on now with all the coronavirus stuff. I mean, they’re gonna get their year granted back, but when there was that day that they didn’t know they’re gonna get it back, it’s like, ‘man like this sport really is so special.’ Not in the sense of competing, winning all that stuff, but it’s so much deeper than the game.”
RK: What was your favorite memory?
GS: “When I finally got back out in the field after going through all the recovery, and working against Team Japan, that was my favorite memory. We all played so well so that was fun. And then I would say going to the Women’s College World Series (in 2019) and being on that stage. Also all the sweeps, the home series sweeps. Coach (Mike Candrea) was like, ‘every sweep you get, we’ll go out to dinner,’ And we got like five sweeps that year. We totally dominated the Pac-12. We just barely came up short from winning a Pac-12 championship. All those high points, they’re kind of high points that you’d probably look at and say, yeah, those are big deals, but I mean, even just being in it was that much better.”
RK: You mentioned Coach Candrea. What did you learn from him?
GS: “That it is just a game. He was always someone to bring me back down when any type of self-doubt crept in. For a while, recovering from the injuries that I went through, I was like, ‘gosh, I feel like I’m getting nowhere.’ But I could always go into his office, he would always be willing to sit down and talk. It would turn into hours sometimes just talking about life, not even about softball. He was always really good at showing you the bigger picture. This is softball and this is now but take what you’re learning now and look how you’ll be applying it to your life in the future and how it’s going to springboard you into your purpose outside of softball.”
RK: What do you want someone to learn from your career path?
GS: “Don’t give up. It’s almost like when you feel like you want to give up, if you just keep on pushing, you’re either gonna learn something or something good is gonna happen. It always seemed like whenever I felt like I was at my breaking point, I would just push a little harder and then something good would happen. And that’s kind of how the game is. It’s such a roller coaster. So always staying consistent and never giving up.”
RK: Because it caused you to wind up with Arizona softball, do you now see your illness as a blessing in disguise?
GS: “Oh, definitely. Sometimes I’ll tell people what happened to me and I always say it’s gonna sound really serious, but trust me I’m glad it happened because it led me to where I am. Growing up in Tucson, playing for U of A was always kind of a farfetched dream, I thought. But then it got to where I had nothing to lose. So it took getting to that point for me to try out and then make the team, but I learned so much under such a great coaching staff, I met such great people, it definitely was a blessing in disguise.”