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Harry How/Getty Cat Osterman
Like many stuck at home during the pandemic, Olympic softball star Cat Osterman kept motivated by setting her sights on the light at the end of the COVID tunnel.
And though, like many, Osterman's future goals did involve a return to the workplace, her office was something on a grander scale than most: the postponed Tokyo Olympics.
"My husband [Joey Ashley] and I had already talked about it and he was like, 'You're going to do what you got to do. You're going to keep going to this,' " Osterman tells PEOPLE of staying focused and committed upon learning the games would be pushed back a year. "He and my stepdaughter are extremely supportive. And I was all in."
The oldest player on the team, 38-year-old Osterman — who announced her retirement from softball in 2015, but returned to the Olympic team to tend to some "unfinished business" — says that from the day she learned the Games would be postponed, she put her all into making sure she stayed in shape.
Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Cat Osterman pitches in Beijing in 2008
But soon, her determination turned to exhaustion, and about three months into her training, Osterman felt as though she was wearing thin when it came to her daily workouts.
"The only thing you could do during quarantine was work out, so I was almost overdoing it," she says. "I got to a point where I was just so tired. I looked at [my husband] and was like, 'I can't do this for a whole 'nother 12 months.' He's like, 'Yeah, you can't. You need to be smart about it.' "
The wake-up call inspired the veteran pitcher to reflect upon her efforts, and carefully consider how best to find a routine that would ensure she was prepared for Tokyo, but that wouldn't wear her out.
"I had to re-gauge and reorganize what I was doing," she says. "I was so far in that there was never a doubt in my mind that I wasn't going to continue on this road and see it through. I have never considered leaving the team, it was just more physically, mentally, emotionally, this is a lot."
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Adds the two-time Olympic medalist: "It was just a matter of reframing, regrouping, knowing that we do have 12 months still, so you don't have to go hardcore every day for the next 12 months."
To get herself back on track, Osterman changed her training schedule, and stopped trying to fit conditioning, lifting and pitching all in the same day. She also organized a plan with her strength coach in which some days would be more difficult than others to allow her to save her strength.
"My team of people that helped take care of me had a good plan, and we stuck to it," she says. "It definitely worked out."
Though Osterman and her teammates had to spend nearly all of 2020 apart due to social distancing guidelines, the team kept their chemistry alive with team meetings that they dubbed "TED Talk Tuesday," where each team member shared something they're passionate about. Valerie Arioto did a presentation on self-care, while another teammate had everyone buy ingredients to (virtually) make monkey bread together over Zoom.
Jade Hewitt/Courtesy USA Softball Cat Osterman
By the time they regrouped in person this January, Osterman and her teammates were more than ready to take the field together in the hopes of bringing home gold.
"I feel like I was born and raised in this program, getting in at such a young age of 18," Osterman says of coming out of retirement to play for some hardware one last time. "I felt like I needed to come do my job as a veteran and come back and help them navigate the journey to a gold medal."
After Tokyo, Osterman plans to finish out her career with Athletes Unlimited later this year, then go back to Austin and work part-time for RBI Austin, an MLB-administered program designed to give youth from underserved and diverse communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball. She also got her real estate license last November.
To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23rd on NBC.