Adversity hasn’t knocked teen out of the game

Published 12:59 pm Saturday, August 12, 2017

Whether she’s throwing curve balls — or life throws them at her, Madison Wood’s learned how to handle both.

Madison Wood holds up the trophy she won during a recent Travel Ball tournament in California. — Stephen H. Cowles | Tidewater News

For starters, the Franklin teen’s experience on the mound goes back to when she was 8 years old. Now at 16 going on 17 in September, Madison’s skills have developed to the point where she was recently able to make a verbal commitment to play softball for Towson University in Maryland when she graduates.

In late July, Madison also got to play in a Travel Ball tournament in California, which featured all the best players and teams in the country.

Her mother, Steph Wood, said that Madison was sought after by Florida State, the University of Virginia and Washington State. Schools in Colorado and New Jersey were also possibilities. But a visit to TU, made the strongest and best impression.

“I liked it a lot when I was there,” said Madison, who particularly appreciates the relatively small class sizes as well the softball program. “Academically, it’s a good fit.”

She added that so far she’s leaning toward majoring in premed.

But a few years ago, a back injury developed into a serious obstacle to her continued playing. Although physical therapy helped some, there were still challenging and painful flare-ups.

“It got to the point it was really hard to walk,” added Madison.

Testing also finally revealed she has polycystic ovary syndrome. Information at, for example, states that PCOS is a common health issue for teen girls and young women. There’s no cure, but treatment is available. Indeed, medication has helped make it possible for Madison to resume playing; she had been out for a year and one-half as the result of her medical issues.

“She battled back. People counted her out,” Steph said.

“Everyone thought I was going to quit,” said Madison, who was determined to “get back to work.”

As if all that weren’t enough, a domestic situation compelled the two to leave Courtland, losing a house, car and even job security.

“A friend took us in for three months,” said Steph, adding that she got right to work in getting new employment. Madison, meanwhile, continued to make good grades in school. “I knew she was going to make it. She’s exceeded all expectations.”

Life has since settled down enough to where they have a roof over their heads and are feeling much more secure about everything, including their future.

They both honor God for the strength and resiliency to handle their setbacks. The mother and daughter also credit Madison’s softball mentors for her success on the mound or in the field, starting with  Wayne Vick, who coaches softball at Christopher Newport University in Newport News.

They met when he was coaching Virginia Legends, which he still assists in training. He taught her “fluidity and not to [always] throw hard,” said the teen.

“I started training Madison when she was 9. She’s a hard-working kid,” Vick recalled. “Failure is not an option with Madison.”

Heidi Freitager-Kirkaldy with Virginia Legends recalled meeting the Woods when she coached at the University of Virginia. As a staff, Heidi and others looked at a Madison as a potential recruit. Leaving the school in August 2016, Heidi stayed in what she called the Travel Ball world and reconnected as her pitching coach in 18U league.

“Madison is really developing good command over multiple speeds of pitches,” Heidi said.

“When we’re looking at a recruit, we look for lots of swings and movements. Both she does really, really well.

“She’s now at the point of reading batters and knowing what to throw out them to get them out. As a relatively young pitcher, it’s one thing to have skill or talent, it’s another to apply those in a pitching situation and she does that really really well.”

Aware of Madison’s health issues, Heidi added that has been impressed by the girl’s “grit and determination to want to succeed.”

A third influence is Tim Johnston, an 18U National Team coach. He texted, “Mady Wood is the type of kid who plays for the name on the front of of the jersey, not the back. She is that athlete that any coach would love to have on their roster.”