CHATHAM ─ Many student athletes view summer vacation as a time to step back and relax a little. Mollie Charest isn't one of them.
Rather than chill out during the break, Charest has stepped up her dedication to softball by traveling far off-Cape to practice and play, but if it helps her reach her goals it will all be worth it, especially if she realizes her dream of playing in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Though such a goal might seem lofty for most high school athletes, Charest isn't like most high school athletes. The soon-to-be sophomore at Monomoy Regional High School started playing the game when she was barely out of toddlerhood. She was four when she started working with her first pitching coach, eventually playing for Monomoy Middle School under the tutelage of coach Craig Andrews.
“I wanted to be like my sister,” she said of Chatham High School graduate Alexis Charest, team catcher and now head coach for Mashpee High. “When I was little I used to watch my sister and I was like, 'Oh I want to be like that one day!'”
The younger Charest was highly motivated by her sister's success and soon fell in love with softball on her own, developing a passion for the game that has only grown since childhood.
“Around the age of eight or nine I realized that if I actually worked really hard I could get what I wanted,” said Charest. “Ever since then I've been setting goals and trying to achieve them.”
This summer Charest reached the milestone of 60 mph pitches, something she'd been striving toward for some time, and just one of many goals she's working to achieve.
“That was a huge goal and I did it by the end of my freshman year,” Charest said.
When Charest and her family realized that softball was far more than a hobby they collectively supported her. While Alexis continued cheering her on, offering suggestions and working to keep her little sister grounded, Charest's parents Jodie and Jason willingly shouldered the responsibility of finding trainers and ferrying her to tournaments, first as part of the Cape Crush program, and now all the way to Worcester each week to work with Ralph Raymond, coach of the Olympic gold medal winning women's teams in 1996 and 2000.
On July 5 it took Charest's mother four hours to get to the field, where Charest was only able to practice for an hour before making the return trip back to Cape Cod. But Charest said it was still worth it. Her current team, the Eagles, is comprised of players from across the Northeast, all of whom had to fight to earn a spot.
“Four pitchers tried out and one of them was throwing 58,” Charest said, adding that the player wasn't chosen. “He's very tough,” she said of Raymond.
Charest said she was surprised and thrilled to learn she had been chosen.
“I love my Monomoy team,” she said. “It's all my friends and I have so much fun. But this team has the best talent I've ever seen in softball.”
Raymond, she said, has proven an amazing coach.
“I've learned so much and I've only been with him for two months,” Charest said. “I actually know what to do in certain situations. Now I know the grips and how to spin the ball.”
Along with Raymond, Charest has also worked closely with trainer Mike Pimental, owner of Compass Athletics in Sandwich.
“He has been a huge influence on her decision and dedication to go after her goals of playing at the highest level of softball that she possibly can,” said Jodie. “He was the Tufts University athletic trainer. She worked out there with her team during the off season.”
Jodie said the two formed a bond. Roughly three years ago he asked what her ultimate goal was regarding softball. At first Charest talked Div. 1 college play. But there was more to it than that. Her dream is to play in the Olympics.
Jodie said Pimental's first reaction was, “What do we need to do to get you there? Are you ready to work to get there?”
“She responded with a 'Yes,'” said Jodie, adding after that the family sat down with Pimental and set up an eight-year plan with annual goals, including the aforementioned 60 mph pitches.
“He is truly an inspiration and great motivator for young teens who have their sights set high in athletics,” said Jodie. “He never told her she couldn't, never discouraged her because of the competition out there, but guided her in how she could excel.”
Jodie said Pimental has been instrumental in motivating her daughter on and off the field.
“He taught her a lot about going after what you want, how to maintain a balance with athletics and school, and how to carry yourself as an athlete,” she said.
Pimental's encouragement was echoed by both Jodie and Jason, who have always done their best to support both daughters endeavors.
“We have never told either one of our kids they could not do something, that they could not achieve their goals,” said Jodie. “It has been pretty amazing watching both of our daughter’s grow up seven years apart, both with the same love of the game, both going after their goals from two separate angles. Alexis has lived her life by telling everyone that she was going to grow up and be a college softball coach, while Mollie grew up always wanting to pitch at the highest level possible. It was Alexis who told me that they were both going after their dreams, just in different ways.”
It is Charest's dreams that keep her focused on her plans and constantly striving to achieve each goal, even if it means making sacrifices.
“I've lost so many friends over [softball], but it's what I want to do,” she said. “Sometimes you have to help yourself before you help others.”
Charest knows that in order to reach Div. 1 at the very least and the Olympics at the most, it will take a great deal of work and lots of time spent off-Cape. She hopes her efforts will pay off when college time comes as she wants to attend Florida State University.
“I want to go down South. I want to go to the best tournaments and see girls that will kill the ball off me so I can learn what to do in those situations. It'll make me better,” she said. “My coach told me, 'Don't look anywhere above North Carolina.'”
Two weekends ago Charest took part in a tournament in which she ended up the lone pitcher for her team, throwing 33 innings in two days.
“I didn't think I could get through it. I don't know how I did it. I think it was all adrenaline,” she said. “The college coaches were all sitting there watching so I think that's what got me through it.”
Softball is also Charest's motivation where academic success is concerned.
“Now that she has moved on to the next level and is talking with professional softball recruiters, one of the first questions she is asked is not about her softball abilities, but 'How are your grades? What's your GPA?'” said Jodie, adding that Mollie has been an honor roll student at MRHS.
Having both daughters experiencing success in a sport they love makes both Jodie and Jason happy.
“As parents, we travel not only to watch Mollie play, but to watch Alexis coach as well. Gotta say we are really proud of both Alexis and Mollie and the young ladies they have become,” said Jodie.
“The game of softball has been more than just a game for our family. It’s a way of life.”
Meanwhile, Charest knows that if she wants to travel to Tokyo in 2020 she must remain focused. It helps that her family is behind her as she continues to play the game she loves.
“When I was little I just wanted to be in the Olympics,” she said. “It's all I wanted to do. I realize that if I want to get where I want to get, I need to do it now. I need to focus and work hard now to get there.”