Donna ‘momma’ Abell, super fastpitch fan will not give up

Written by Bob on June 22nd, 2012

She once went to the ball park after 72 hours of chemotherapy (but) she wasn’t going to miss the ball game. Fastpitch came along at the right time for us.” – Randy Abell

The Abell family includes Randy, left, Donna, and sons Tysen and Brody.
Courtesy photo

EAGLEVILLE, MO – At first glance, boys’ fastpitch brought a grimace and a groan from Donna Abell: “You’ve got to be kidding. Girls play softball!”

That was in 2003 when through the insistence of a friend, Donna’s 11-year-old son Brody switched from playing baseball to fastpitch softball.

She wasn’t keen on the move then. But she now has a distinctly different view of the underhanded game.

“We didn’t know back then how infectious fastpitch would become,” she said. “So you can say we took a leap of faith and fell head-over-heels for the game we call fastpitch.”

Though Donna waves off the nickname, ‘super fan,’ that’s exactly what she’s become confirms her husband Randy, 56, and sons Brody, 21, and Tysen, 30. Most fastpitch fans have a competitive spirit about them. Donna does too. She’s a former athlete, playing high school basketball in the 1970s, and competing with horses.

“I cut my teeth on a saddle horn, showing horses all over Iowa and barrel racing at rodeos,” she said.

Feisty? Intense? A strong will to win? His mom has those attributes in abundance says Brody, who pitches for Northwest Implement of Maryville – a young team with an average age of 23.

It’s not hard to miss his mom in the stands, he says. One moment she’s cheering and shouting out encouragement. The next she letting the umpire know she doesn’t like his call. And she will serve notice to the opposing side as well.

Brody Abell, pitching in the 2010 NAFA World Series for Northwest Implement.

“I’ve heard her tell teams, ‘don’t hit the pitcher, he’s my boy. If you do, I’ll hurt you,’” Brody said with a chuckle. “She loves fastpitch as much as I do. She pushes me to be better, to never settle, to always try and improve.”

That fiery spirit and strong will to win have served Donna well over the past 13 years. And she’s needed every ounce she can muster. Since 1999, she’s been locked in her own fierce “pitcher’s dual” against a relentless foe – Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). She’s winning the battle. But it’s been an exhausting and painful one.

Her cancer treatments over time were going well, and she was in remission, but then, “the nasty stuff showed up again,” she said. “Two years ago it came back and I battled it again, but I went to every game I could.”

In October 2010 she underwent a stem cell transplant. Then January of 2011 doctors discovered a suspicious growth on her elbow. So they performed a biopsy. But from that biopsy, a staph infection flared up. Sending her back for another hospital stay. But that didn’t slow her fastpitch time down much.

“I was at every game I could,” Donna said. “It takes a lot to keep me away.”

Through these worrisome times, Randy has stayed strong and true by his wife’s side. He marvels at her strength. And he also credits fastpitch as a welcome diversion. Watching and cheering for Brody and Northwest has taken Donna’s mind off her battle with the disease.

But it hasn’t been easy.

“She once went to the ball park after 72 hours of chemotherapy,” Randy said. “She wasn’t going to miss the ball game. Fastpitch came along at the right time for us.”

When hospitalized, she insists that that Randy call with play-by-play updates from the ball diamond. She’s only missed a few games over the years. And for some of the games, she dragged herself to the ballpark weak and fatigued. She would sit beyond the outfield fence, “so no one would see me sick,” she said.

Tysen marvels at his mother’s strong will, fighting a illness that would force many with less resolve to crawl under the covers and mourn their luckless fate.

“Mom has incredible strength,” Tysen said. “She’s fighting for us. Family drives her; it keeps her going.”

Randy, Donna and Tysen rarely miss Brody’s games. When playing fastpitch for Eagleville High School as a catcher and pitcher, they didn’t miss a single game. They travel as a family to tournaments. They saw Brody and Northwest win both the 2010 age 18-under ASA and NAFA national championships. They’ve been at every Northwest game during five ASA, two NAFA, and one ISC 19-under national tournaments.

“At some, I was sick,” Donna said. “At others I wore a wig. But nothing was going to keep me away from those games.”

Randy remembers a meeting with Donna’s doctor.

“She told the doctor, ‘I don’t have time for this; it’s (NHL) going to have to live with me,’” Randy said. “The doctor said he never heard that approach before. He said it’s a great attitude to have. Sometimes she can hardly walk, but she said (NHL) isn’t going to stop her.”

Through ten years of fastpitch, Donna’s collected a scrapbook full of wonderful memories. She’s proud that Brody made the move from catching to pitching; proud that he helped Sand Prairie Construction (WI) win the 2008 ISC World Tournament 19-under championship.

She thrilled as a then 16-year-old Brody pitched and caught in the Des Moines league with the likes of fastpitch stars Jeremy and Regan Manley, Tyson Byrnes, Stacey McClean, Bruno Motroni, Bobby King and Tony Peeples. She applauds these veteran mentors for helping her young son improve his game.

“I remember Brody catching Regan and he was only 16,” she said. “I remember the best game he ever pitched against Chapman, Kansas when he faced 16 batters and struck out 15.”

The Northwest Implement team has an average age of 23, and have developed into one of the best young teams in the U.S. and Canada. Courtesy photo.

She’s also proud of Northwest’s spectacular performance at the 2011 ASA National Tournament where they won the Young Men’s 23-under championship, while also taking runner-up in the 2011 NAFA World Series “A” Division tournament.

“When you go to as many games as I do, the ‘memorable moments’ list gets bigger by the day,” she said.

But Donna is much more than a super fan. Brody, Tysen and Randy laud her dedication to “her boys” on the team. When Northwest plays in an away tournament, she can be counted on to keep the team the tidiest bunch on the field.

“When we’re playing away from home and staying at a hotel, she collects all the uniforms after Saturday’s games and will stay up to two or three in the morning washing them,” Tysen said, “so that the boys will look good on Sunday. All the boys call her, ‘momma Abell.’”

Donna doesn’t downplay the seriousness of her battle against NHL. But she’s determined to defeat this foe that claims 49-percent of its victims within the first 10 years of diagnosis.

“I have to be strong for Randy and the boys,” she said. “I want to see Brody pitch in the ‘big show,’ the ISC World Tournament someday. I will not give up.”

For more information about Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and other types of cancers, and how you can help defeat these diseases, visit the American Cancer Society website

And be sure to friend Northwest Implement Men’s fastpitch on its Facebook page. there’s lots of photos and news about the team.
Northwest Facebook

For NAFA related stories visit: NAFA Fastpitch

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. John Younger says:

    I know the Abell family,I have played with & against Brody. They are a great fastpitch family.

  2. Julie Halls says:

    Donna is my best friend, she is truly an inspiration to everyone that knows her. The most important thing is her family (Randy, Tyson & Brody)Brody’s softball is a big part in her life, I remember going to doctor’s visits and to Omaha and she had to watch Brody play on their c-d player all the way there.It kept her going and made her will to survive all the obstacles that she had to face and all the treatments she had to have. Sisters forever! Your Best Friend Julie

  3. Bob says:

    What a great tribute Julie. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Cathy Tolly says:

    I sat with Donna at the hospital for those very few games she couldn’t attend. She still kept in touch by phone. She is so dedicated to her family. I am proud to be part of that family. I am her aunt by marriage to her uncle and her sister-in-law by her marriage to my brother, Randy. Yes, we’re a little wierd.
    That family is what kept her pushing when most people would have thrown in the towel.

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