Mickey Marotti has worked with some of the top college football players in the country the past 26 years while serving as a strength and conditioning coach.
But in terms of mental toughness, none of those athletes has impressed Marotti more than his daughter, Maddie, who has overcome an autoimmune disorder to become a standout player for the Watterson High School softball team.
"Maddie's a natural athlete who has worked really hard to become pretty strong for her size," he said. "I'm kind of amazed that she's got as much power as she has, but what I'm most proud of is her mental toughness. She's going through a medical condition that put her in the hospital back in January, but she hasn't let it stop her from coming back and having a good season this spring."
Last November, Maddie Marotti began feeling fatigued and developed unexplained bruises on her hands. She then began experiencing unprovoked nose bleeds and, after a rash of pinpoint-sized red spots began breaking out across her body in January, she was admitted to Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital, where she remained for four days and three nights while undergoing tests.
"It was very shocking and confusing because I try to eat healthy foods and I work hard to be in shape and I didn't understand what was happening to me," Marotti said. "I started looking up my symptoms on the Internet and I got really scared because I had a lot of the same symptoms you get when you have leukemia."
Marotti ultimately was diagnosed as having idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a disorder in which the immune system destroys platelets, which are cells that help blood clot. Low levels of platelets can lead to excessive bruising and bleeding.
"I was really nervous because I didn't know what I was going to do if I found out I couldn't play softball anymore," Marotti said. "But I was also thankful that I didn't have something worse. Being in the hospital and seeing other people who had cancer opened my eyes and made me more grateful for what I have. And not being able to play softball while I was recovering made me appreciate how awesome softball is and how lucky I am to be able to play it."
Marotti was treated with a series of steroid injections and was medically cleared in time to play in Watterson's season opener April 2 at Olentangy. She started at shortstop and hit a two-run home run to lead the Eagles to a 10-3 victory.
The 5-foot-3 senior played a significant role in helping Watterson win 11 of its first 13 games but had to miss one contest because of a relapse that needed further steroid treatment.
Batting leadoff, Marotti had a .426 batting average with two home runs, six doubles, a triple, seven RBI and 16 runs through 13 games. She also has played well in the field, posting a .950 fielding percentage through 13 games.
Watterson clinched at least a share of the CCL championship by defeating DeSales 7-1 on April 25.
"Maddie's our little spark plug," coach Tracey Cultice said. "She has a lot of power and she's very fast. The girls feed off her energy. When we have a big inning where we score a lot of runs, she's usually the one who starts us off with a big hit."
"I love going up to the plate and having people doubting me and thinking I can't hit because I'm too small," Marotti said. "A lot of times when I go to bat, I hear people say, 'Infield up. She's going to bunt or slap.' That just motivates me to drive the ball as far as I can."
Marotti credits her father with teaching her the game of softball and helping her develop, physically and mentally.
"My dad has been a big inspiration for me," she said. "He's helped me so much with my mental and physical strength and he's always working with me to help my hitting. He pitches to me all the time and he watches a lot of college softball and asks college baseball and softball coaches for hitting tips. I wouldn't be where I am without my dad and the support of my entire family."
Marotti earned all-state honors as a junior while playing for Gainesville (Fla.) St. Francis Catholic and received several Division I college scholarship offers before signing with Notre Dame on Nov. 1.
Marotti's family moved to Dublin last year after her father was named assistant athletics director for football sports performance at Ohio State. He had been director of strength and conditioning at the University of Florida from 2005-11 after holding the same title at Notre Dame from 1998-2005.
"It was hard to leave Florida after living there so many years, but the people at Watterson have been so inviting that I feel like this is where I belong," she said. "We have eight seniors on this team so we want to do something big this year, and winning the CCL is a great start.
"But after everything I've been through this year, I'm just so grateful to have the opportunity to play the game I love with girls who have become my best friends."