For the first time since 2008, softball is back at the Olympics, and it's leading off the events in Tokyo.
Team USA will take on Italy in an opening round game Tuesday night. Among the players repping the red, white and blue is Pleasanton native and Cal graduate Valerie Arioto.
Arioto was just 8 years old when she started playing at Pleasanton Sports Park. Nowadays, on occasion, she comes back home to practice.
"When someone watches me play, I hope that's what they get from it is just like I have a great time," she said. "I bring the energy and I am still that little blond girl that played here, PGSL softball, just a little older."
During the pandemic, like everyone else, she was alone and found new ways to train.
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"I was at home on my couch like everyone else," she said. "I found a new love of mountain bike riding because I can get away from people. I can still get my workouts in. I play a team sport, so I'm used to having my teammates next to me motivating me. So, this past year, it was kind of just me, myself and I. I really had to look in the mirror, like, 'What do I need to get done?' For me, I love journaling. Every single morning I have my cup of coffee, I have my journal in front of me, I have my calendar in front of me. That just gives me so much joy and really starts my day off right. There's so much more that I need to be grateful for that is in front of me. I'm not so worried about the little things that come up because I'm like, 'Wow, there's time where I couldn't play.'"
Arioto still can't believe she's an Olympian, and she's not taking anything for granted.
"This is a great opportunity for us all to come together and have sport be that common denominator for people to cheer us on, to root us on, to show that passion again and to, I think, the message, this unity to bring everyone back together and give people hope and joy again," she said.