Sunday Column: “Breakin’ It Down With Bailey…Stenson”

Stenson will always be remembered for her softball career at the University of Washington, but exactly, what is it that makes her story so special?

By Stacey Kilpatrick 

Bailey Stenson might be one of the funniest people I’ve talked with, yet we haven’t even met. The former number 20 softball player of team Purp and Gold at the University of Washington, the forever Husky, causes me to crack a few laughs through her sarcasm, bluntness and genuine positive, perky persona about life.

The Washington born-and-raised 23-year-old listens to Kanye West over Taylor Swift, although she never saw their 2009 MTV feud, (“I didn’t even see what happened between him and Taylor, not even on YouTube. I live under a rock when it comes to that stuff. I don’t watch much TV or really surf the internet. Who am I? A Grandma?”), she likes East Coaster Paul Pierce over L.A.’s King Kobe Bryant, though she’s not a big NBA supporter. She’s more of a Facebook nerd than Twitter, she loves hitting and running the bases, but also loves making sure that nothing hits the grass and interviewing others is her style. She thinks she’s “bad at being interviewed.”

She’s not.

I wanted to get to know more about Stenson since I became a fan of hers in May 2009 when I stumbled upon the Women’s College World Series on ESPN. UW was playing and famed Canadian pitcher Danielle Lawrie was at the mound and Stenson was one of the Huskies playing for a spot in the outfield in Oklahoma City.

The Purp and Gold made it to OK that June. The No. 3 Huskies beat No. 14 Georgia Tech 7-1 and 7-0 in two games in Atlanta during the Super Regionals, advancing to the WCWS. They then beat No. 6 Georgia and No. 10 Arizona State to move on to the championship.

In Game 1 on June 1, the dogs pulverized the Florida Gators and pitcher Stacey Nelson, 8-0, and in Game 2 the following day, the University of Washington beat Florida, 3-2, to become the 2009 National Champions, bringing home the title back to Seattle, back to the softball field that overlooks Lake Washington and Mount Rainier.

“This moment, it just seems like a very private thing, like each individual has their own version and I don’t feel like I give it any justice without having all of their versions mashed with mine,” Stenson said, “but overall it was everything we had worked for.

“I think it was so great because we literally were aiming at a goal and made it come true. We didn’t back down. When you have 20 people buying into the same goal and all giving their everything to that one specific mindset, it’s amazing to watch it come true.

“Some teams are shocked they won, others expect it, but I think we truly just appreciated and respected the moment, the game and all of the challenges that led to all 36 hands raising that trophy. No better feeling.”

But Stenson and her teammates weren’t in the same ecstatic mindset in June 2010.

Once again, the No. 3 Huskies advanced from the Super Regionals after defeating No. 14 Oklahoma in Games 2 and 3, 3-0 and 4-0, respectively. On June 3, the No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs beat Washington 6-3. Two days later, on June 5, the Washington Huskies were topped by one run, 4-3, by No. 10 Arizona, and Washington’s hopes of winning two championships in a row had ended as the National Champions were eliminated.

“I bawled my eyes out,” Stenson said. “I was so dramatic. From taking off my jersey and my white cleats for the last time to my final at bat, I was a wreck. We had all the talent in the world that year, but it wasn’t right. It wasn’t our trophy to win. We were trying too hard to make it happen. It wasn’t Husky softball.

“I wouldn’t do it over again though. We had to go through it. While it hurts to sit here and say we had the chance to do it again and didn’t seize it, I can’t help but remind myself that we have a National Championship and a PAC-10 Championship. Both very coveted honors. Can’t be greedy.

“While I wish we would have made a better postseason run, I must thank my teammates for leaving it all. To go out and play your ‘A’ game every day, not lose very often, you need to lose, you have to experience failure in order to grow, and to hold onto that spot all season, it’s exhausting.

“We were tired, Danielle was tired, our offense, our defense, our dugout — drained. We gave it our all. We peaked every weekend. What a ride.”

So Stenson and her teammates went back to Seattle unlike the year prior, but since then, Stenson has accomplished many a feats, many individually – she’s begun her post graduation, post UW softball, post number 20 life and has even started a “blog” titled “Breakin it Down with Bailey” where she shares crazy, personal, hilarious, random stories with her friends and fans.

“I actually did not have the idea to start writing until our Sports Information Director came to me and asked if I would write for gohuskies.com,” Stenson said.

The women’s soccer team had a blog, Stenson mentioned, written by Kendyl Pele, who titled it “Kickin it with Kendyl.”

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be cool if everyone’s blog was alliteration like that?’” Stenson said. “And I thought, ‘I like to dance … Breakin it Down with Bailey might work’ and Rosie said she loved it.

Stenson soon decided to start interviewing fellow teammates and Huskies, adding eye-opening videos to her blog.

“I like doing my interviews in a silly uncut manner because it really shows that athletes are real people too and not just focused on their sport,” Stenson said. “After about a year of writing, in fact, exactly one year, my friend Amanda suggested I make a fan page on Facebook so I worked really, really hard on getting all of my stuff loaded on there, pretty much all in one night, and people started ‘liking it’ right away.

“I have no idea how the word spread but I had like 200 people within the first week. Then I started inviting people here and there and people would reject it or add it, whatever. But I literally think I get a new fan every day somehow someway, it’s pretty incredible that 2100-plus people like it.”

“I love writing for people,” Stenson continued. “I feel like I really just spell things out. Someone might have written about something in the past, but you can bet that my version will be a lot wordier with a lot of language that is just super unprofessional and fun. I don’t ‘curr’ if my grammar is correct or if I make up words, as long as people get the point, I am good.”

Stenson then gathered all her witty blog posts and decided to put them together, along with other writings and personal pieces, and publish a book, her first, titled, “Who We Are is Why We WIN,” a quote that her former UW softball coach Heather Tarr said.

College student-athlete, National Champion, why not add another accomplishment to her list.

“The title is absolutely perfect. This quote is so great because it basically tells you, ‘Be a good person or you’re a loser” for lack of a better comparison. I think every single person I have ever played with at Washington, has done outstanding things in their lifetime and it’s because of who they are and the decisions that they choose to make that helps our program to be a success. It’s just perfect.

The idea came about for Stenson during a 2009 banquet.

“I had planned on printing all of my things off for all of the girls and binding them so they could read them (I am willing to bet that most of my teammates never read the writings). I wanted them to keep them as a memory.

“Well, we had a very short amount of time between landing in Seattle and jumping in Lake Washington for a celebratory dip and getting dressed up and celebrating our season, so I wasn’t able to get it together. I was also planning on doing the same thing for 2010, but I just never got the energy to do both seasons so I let it go. Then I kind of started talking about wanting to make it a book and people said, do it, so I listened.

“It was just an idea shared that got a great response so I chose to Google self publishers after going through three months of trying to publish on a website that I had no idea how to work, and I found the perfect publisher and am now trying to get this thing done.

“The publishing process is grueling because I am such an instant gratification person that waiting around like this is killing me. I just can’t wait.”

Stenson made the decision to donate half of her books’ proceeds to the Big Deep Breath Organization, a group that assists families whose children are battling cancer, started in honor by Ashley K. Aven’s family, after Aven, a Washington high school junior, passed away in August 2010 from AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Stenson is a leukemia survivor herself, having battled and beaten cancer as a young child.

“The moment I met Ashley and her family my life was changed,” Stenson said. “I had a really hard time before that game (that Ashley attended) and was crying to my friend Taylor about how it wasn’t fair that I got to be ok and that she is fighting to live. I went through a hard time those months following. The doctor’s called it ‘survivor’s guilt’ and I would just call it having a heart.

“It’s hard to have had cancer as a child, not really remember much of it, and see kids be affected by it. I just don’t feel right about it. Her family is such supporters of me and my decisions and I just feel that being able to help them help others will help me in the long run. It’s selfish sounding, but overall, giving back to families who are struggling just feels good at the end of the day.”

With Stenson’s time spent furiously typing away at her keyboard and figuring out her young adult life, as many recent college graduates are doing, she still makes time to play the game that has had such an amazing impact on her young life.

“I definitely keep softball in my life. I am actually booming in the lessons department, I have several people that want slapping lessons and right handed power hitting lessons, so that’s been keeping me around the game,” Stenson said.

“I am also in the process of getting a Visa to go play over in Italy. That is kind of on the fence right now so hopefully that goes through here soon. So softball is definitely a prominent figure in my life. I also play co-ed soccer on Sunday and Wednesday nights and I play basketball (20 guys and myself) on Saturday mornings.

“I actually just recently hit head with some dude and I have a pretty brutal concussion moment going on so I have been down and out from physical activity for the last week. It’s been excruciating, but I know I need to do it.

“My mom heard that each concussion does the same amount of damage as five years of heroin abuse. So 35 years of heroin abuse for me. I have obviously never done heroin, but I am sure it’s pretty bad, so five years of it must be terrifying.”

Check out Stenson’s “Breakin it Down with Bailey” on Facebook as well as her official website at http://bidwb.com/ where you can preorder her book, “Who We Are is Why We WIN.”

For more information regarding the Big Deep Breath Organization, go to http://www.bigdeepbreath.org/.

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