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Keep swinging: Debert cancer survivor playing softball at World Masters

Tracy Snyder of Debert will be play softball at the World Master Games in Auckland New Zealand this April.
Tracy Snyder of Debert will be play softball at the World Master Games in Auckland New Zealand this April.

DEBERT, N.S. – Five years after her last radiation treatment, Tracy Snyder walked on a baseball field and started to cry.

“I’m here, I’m alive, I get to play ball again,” thought the 50 year-old Debert woman.

Snyder grew up in Ontario playing competitive baseball from the time she was eight through into her 30s.

She moved to Debert with her husband ten years ago and hadn’t thought about ball and didn’t even know she missed it until she got an email out of the blue last spring from her old senior ball teammates in Ontario.

Did she want to play with them at the Worlds Masters Games in Auckland, New Zealand this April?

“This is the chance of the lifetime, there was no question I wanted to do it – but I hadn’t played baseball in 16 years – I hadn’t thrown a ball, hadn’t swung a bat, nothing in 16 years. I wasn’t sure if I could do it,” she said.

It wasn’t just the 16 years, or her age – there was also that little battle with cancer and what it had done to her body.

Brave enough to get it checked

One day six years ago, Snyder felt a pain in her left breast but she thought it was from working hard at the gym.

“After a couple months I finally got brave enough to have it checked out,” she says.

The doctors found a stage three, two-inch by three-inch tumour in her left breast. Cancer had also spread to 11 of her lymph nodes.

“One of them had ruptured so when they’re doing body scans to see if it has spread, it’s pretty scary,” says Snyder.

Surgeons removed the tumour and the lymph nodes and Snyder underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and 20 rounds of radiation.

When it was all over she was told to rest her left arm – the arm she throws with.

“My left arm is a little swollen from the radiation and it was atrophied from doing nothing with it, it was weak,” she said

Since then Snyder has been free of cancer.

It took her a few days to decide she would compete in Auckland but since last June she has been slowly building the strength back for throwing and batting.

She’s a catcher so she’s been working on the leg and hip strength and flexibility for squatting and for driving out of the squat.

Her goal for Auckland is clear.

“I want to win gold, they won gold the last two times, and I want to help them do it again,” she said.

Snyder will be playing with the Free Spirits, a team made up of women from different parts of Ontario and Nova Scotia in the women's 45 and over elite softball division.

Snyder played with many of these women before in Ontario and she was catcher for both the present pitcher and the woman who is the coach of the team – so they know Snyder’s abilities.

The World Masters Games, recognized by the International Olympic Committee, is the world’s largest multi-sport event bringing together more than 25,000 athletes from 100 countries to participate in 28 sports and 45 disciplines.

The Free Spirits won gold at the World Masters Games in Sydney, Australia in 2009 and in Torino, Italy in 2013.

In September Snyder flew up to Ontario to practice with the team.

“I walked out on that field in a ball uniform and my gear and I was picking up balls and that’s when I started to cry,” she said. “Five years ago I didn’t know if I’d see another birthday. I want people know you can get through it, you can fight, it’s not fun but you can get to the other side of the treatment and have a great life. I’m going to New Zealand – that’s always been on my bucket list.”

Prepping for Auckland

Tracy Snyder, 50, hasn’t played baseball in 16 years. When she was invited to play softball with a team from Canada at the World Master Games in Auckland New Zealand this April, she knew it was going to take some work.

Snyder spent last summer chucking a baseball with her husband, hitting balls off the tee, picking up balls and just getting back into the swing.

Since Christmas she has lost 20 pounds by going to the gym three times a week and working with a personal trainer.

She has also been hitting balls at the sportsplex in Stellarton three times a week and says her hitting is as strong now as it ever was.

Plus, Snyder is a catcher, which brings with it the challenge of squatting behind batters for an hour and a half.

“The team has won gold the last two World Master Games, so I want to win gold too,” said Snyder. “I’m batting stronger now than I ever did and I’m working hard to develop the strength to drive out of the squat.”

During batting practice with her husband, she works through scenarios in her head to start developing the mental side of the game.

“I think one of the reasons the girls called me to play is I call a good game, I call a surprising mix of pitches. I’m working on my mental focus,” she said.

Besides preparing herself physically and mentally for the competition Snyder has had to buy all new catcher’s gear and pay for the trip to New Zealand.

“My family and my clients have been generous but I’m still hoping for some sponsorship. There’s not a lot out there for people my age but it’s a big bill and I’m hoping I can find some people who want to help make this happen.”

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