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Missouri softball's Taylor Gadbois perseveres despite mother's illness

Monday, April 7, 2014 | 9:12 p.m. CDT; updated 6:45 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Missouri outfielder Taylor Gadbois leads off first base during the first game of the double header against Illinois State at University Field on March 19. Missouri won 4-2.

COLUMBIA — No one notices.

Sophomore center fielder Taylor Gadbois leans off first base. It's a familiar place for the slap hitter, who's batting .447 this season.

She receives the signal.

You can hardly turn your head toward second base before Gadbois is there, sliding into the bag to secure the steal.

"She's fast," fans say from their seats. The softball team's staff jokes about challenging her to a race, knowing they would lose. This is what people notice — Gadbois' 30 stolen bases lead the Southeastern Conference.

Or maybe they notice opposing teams' fielders closing in on Gadbois as she bats, attempting to foil the speedsters' plans. Gadbois had a program-best 29-game hitting streak that finally came to an end on March 30. Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine even admitted he sometimes counts the innings until the team can get back to the top of the lineup, where Gadbois leads off.

People notice the speed. People notice the hits.

But there's something they don't notice.

Gadbois' mother, Dana Austin, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia during Gadbois' sophomore year of high school. This type of cancer is rare in adults, reducing the chance of her being cured.

Austin received bone marrow from Gadbois' uncle, Clint Dawson, but the transplant wasn't entirely successful. Austin now has graft-versus-host disease, in which the donor cells attack the recipient's body.

"She's slowly dying every day," Gadbois said.

***

Gadbois never brings her phone to practice. But the Thursday before Missouri's home opener against Kentucky, she broke her own rule.

Her older sister, Jordan Gadbois, had sent a text message to her and their brother, Derek Gadbois, earlier that week saying she had a bad feeling.

It was warranted.

When Taylor Gadbois called her mother, Austin's speech was off. Gadbois couldn't understand her. When Jordan Gadbois called her the next day, Austin passed out while they were on the phone.

Jordan Gadbois called their aunt, who found Austin on the floor in her Maryville home, trying to get up. She took her to the hospital.

But with a conference series coming up, Taylor Gadbois still went to practice that Thursday. After a ground ball drill, she checked her phone.

"All it said was, 'Mom's kidneys are failing,'" Gadbois said. "I went to tell Coach, and I kinda had a panic attack. And he just let me go right away."

Sophomore outfielder and catcher Carlie Rose went with Gadbois to the hospital. Austin couldn't talk, but Gadbois did get to see her smile.

The next day, she hit her first double as a Tiger on her first at-bat of the game.

"She's always on my mind," Gadbois said. "She's always there."

***

"Taylor, just go in there and get dirty," Austin told her daughter.

Taylor Gadbois was 5, maybe 6 years old, spending the day with her mother at Beal Park in Maryville. She didn't know what Austin was talking about.

"That's what you have to do," her mother said.

At that young age, Gadbois was learning the art of sliding and stealing.

It's come in handy. She's used her mother's method successfully 30 out of 34 times this season.

"I need to come have her teach me again because lately I've been sliding too far and all that stuff," Gadbois said.

It may seem easy for her to get caught up in the stress while doing what her ill mother taught her so often. But softball is Gadbois' sanctuary.

"I have softball world and then my home life," Gadbois said. "I think coming out to the softball field actually takes everything away, normally. I just get to relax and have fun with the people I love to be around."

She'll goof around in the outfield, yelling "I like that!" with sophomore right fielder Emily Crane when the team does something good. She'll keep things loose, playing hacky sack before games and pointing out how stretchy her uniform pants actually are.

Her teammates act as a second family.

"We're not gonna ask questions, and if she needs us, she knows we're there," Crane said. "I'm so proud of her for going out on the field and not letting it affect her. That's a very tough thing to do when things are going on."

***

The stands at University Field erupted with cheers as the ball hit by senior left fielder Mackenzie Sykes sailed over the left field wall and gave the Tigers both a walk-off win and a series victory against Georgia.

Austin sat in those stands.

She'd gotten better since the scare before the Kentucky series. She had to stay in the shade, and Gadbois said she still needs to ingest dozens of pills each day. Large sunglasses covered her eyes — she's now legally blind.

Austin couldn't see her daughter's two hits against the Bulldogs, which extended Gadbois' hitting streak to 29 games. She couldn't see her daughter steal the way she taught her years ago. She couldn't see her daughter's introduction video, in which Gadbois catches a bag of chips and eats one in her usual goofy demeanor.

But she was there for Gadbois, and that was enough.

"Seeing her just absolutely makes my day," Gadbois said. She's optimistic — on and off the field.

That's what people notice.

Supervising editor is Mark Selig


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