Softball prodigy running in hero’s footsteps
Softball great Lara Andrews used to keep an eye on Caitlyn Lewin in after-school care; now the promising teen is following Andrews to a softball scholarship in America.
Caitlyn Lewin has a tattoo on her left forearm with the four characters in kanji denoting earth, wind, water and fire.
The 17-year-old from Lower Hutt was inspired by the movie, Avatar: The Last Airbender, where the avatar attempts to control the four elements.
“I want to be good at everything I do,” Lewin says, explaining the tattoo. “I like the idea of learning everything and being good at everything.”
She’s already on her way in softball, having played for the White Sox and national age grade teams, and she will be one of the leaders in the New Zealand U18 team at the world championships in Peru in August.
After that she will head to Florida’s Chipola College on a three-year scholarship that will see her follow in her older sister Mikayla’s footsteps.
It is, she says, a life changing opportunity as the costs of an education in New Zealand are beyond her.
“You can’t get better than a free education and top softball. But I know I have to do well because if you don’t pass, you don’t play,” says Lewin, who left Hutt Valley High School last year to concentrate on her softball career.
“And I know that if I didn’t play softball, I wouldn’t be going to university in New Zealand.”
Lewin will be one of four Hutt Valley softballers at colleges in the United States, joining sister Mikayla, Pallas Potter and Denver Shaw-Tait (whose mother, Kiri, and grandmother Naomi Shaw are softballing royalty).
These young women are following White Sox captain Lara Andrews, who has two degrees from the University of Delaware and is now finishing off her PhD - researching parental involvement in organised sport and how it affects children’s confidence.
Andrews came back to New Zealand preaching the pathway to academic and sporting success for Kiwi girls lay in the United States. She’s proud of the Hutt Valley girls who have followed her advice.
“I barely graduated high school so to come out with two degrees and almost finished my PhD, it shows what softball can do,” Andrews says.
“When I was young, I didn’t know anyone who went to university. I played alongside Olympians who had children and worked full-time to support their families.”
Andrews has known Lewin since she was a toddler and is confident she will be a success in the States.
“She could represent Wellington in any sport - rugby, basketball, league - she is such a natural. The world is her oyster because she can excel at whatever she does,” says Andrews.
Lewin, like most teenage girls, shies away from such praise but remains confident and articulate when she chats about how she hopes her life will play out.
Having played for the White Sox at two tournaments already, she’s keen to help them qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
More immediately, she wants the New Zealand U18 side to finish in the top eight in Lima at the first-ever women’s U18 world championships, and she knows the pressure will be on her in the classroom and on the diamond at Chipola College.
But she’s already experienced pressure at the top, having played for the senior national team at the Australia Pacific Cup the last two years.
It was, she admits, intimidating at first. “These are people I used to see on TV and here I was playing against them or in the same team,” she says.
“That level exposes - I don’t want to say your weaknesses - but the things you need to work on. And it was also cool to play alongside and against people I look up to.”
One of those people is Andrews, who used to keep an eye on Lewin in after-school care at Petone’s Wilford Primary School.
“Getting to play alongside [Andrews] is surreal. I never thought I would be good enough in time to play in the same team as her,” Lewin says.
The pair are teammates for Hutt Valley and New Zealand, and Andrews is far from surprised Lewin has broken into the senior ranks so young.
“I’m so proud of Caitlyn and her work ethic,” she says. “She has always had the physical ability, but she has really grown mentally too.”