Feb. 14, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Softball parents are notorious for their support of their daughters in their playing careers. Whether it's hopping in the car for long rides during travel ball in grade school and high school or trekking to universities around the country if they're fortunate enough to play in college, many supportive sacrifices are made. For South Carolina's Taylor Williams, Senior Day in May will mark the first time in four years that her family has been able to come to Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field to watch her play a home game, but family support and sacrifice have made her what she is today.
"My mom is my rock," Williams said. "I love that lady with all of my heart. I know it's going to be a special moment when she comes to those games."
For Taylor's mother, Gloria, getting to games isn't easy. She was paralyzed from the waist down as the result of a car accident back in Texas in 1999.
"She got clipped by an 18-wheeler, and it flipped her car," Williams said. "She was in a ditch for three or four days. By the grace of God, they finally found her, and she survived. Her waist was completely rotated 180 degrees. They were looking for her, and they kept passing her because it was in a low spot.
"They never found the driver that hit her. One day her life was perfect. Then she's in a hospital bed breathing through a tube."
Williams was only four at the time of her mother's accident, and she doesn't have a lot of memories of her mother when she wasn't in a wheelchair. Making ends meet wasn't easy for Gloria, a single mom with three daughters, but the family's love and support of Taylor never wavered in her athletics pursuits.
"Growing up in a single-parent home shaped me into a more independent person," Williams said. "I had to grind to do all of these things, so I always had a chip on my shoulder. I felt like I always had something to prove. I'd go to travel ball games, and everybody's mom was there. My sisters (Chelsea and Ashleigh) were there, so that was enough. Chelsea would be on the phone telling my mom everything I was doing. I know my mom was proud of me."
Born in the small town of Flatonia, Texas, the family moved to Houston when Taylor was in the fifth grade. Life certainly became difficult for Gloria, and it was difficult on her three daughters as well. The family remained in Houston for three years, and that's when Taylor became heavily involved with travel ball.
"Chelsea was 16, and she would drive me around to all my softball games," Williams said. "At that young age, she sort of had to take on that `mom' role. She drove me all around the country to tournaments. She really sacrificed a lot for me. My mom would call us every day. I know she felt really bad that she couldn't come with us."
I want my mom to be happy. I want her to be proud of me.
Finances were tough at times, but the family always found a way.
"Financially, my mom was always there for us," Williams said. "I don't know how she did it. My mom got disability. With me playing travel ball, it got expensive. There would be times where my mom or my sisters would have to sell some things just for me to go play travel ball and pay dues. I never realized how much they sacrificed for me. There were times my sister couldn't have her phone on because she helped pay for these things. It was a struggle growing up."
Heading into eighth grade, the family moved back to Flatonia. As Taylor grew into a budding athletics star in her high school years, Gloria did her best to make any event involving her daughters when the travel wasn't too cumbersome.
"When I won Homecoming queen, she was there screaming the loudest," Williams laughed. "When I played basketball, she was there. My mom and my sisters were definitely my biggest supporters.
"My hometown is really small. Everybody knows everybody. She'd just roll up with her jersey on with `Williams' on the back. When I committed to South Carolina, she started showing up with a whole bunch of Gamecocks stuff. Both of my sisters would show up, too. It was so great to have that family support."
Knowing how much her family gave to her, Williams was determined not to fail, on or off the field.
"Getting the chance to come to a major D-1 program and play was a dream come true, and I know they're proud of me," Williams said, holding back a tear. "I keep telling my mom, `I'm going to pay you back.' I tell her that I'm going to take care of her."
As a retail management major with a minor in sport and entertainment management, Williams has thought about working for an athletics equipment company.
"When I was younger, I told my mom I was going to be a doctor so I could work on stem cell transplants so I could get her walking again," Williams said. "I've taken a few turns from there, so that didn't quite work out. One of my dream jobs right now would be to become a sport rep for Easton and work with different sports teams around the country. It's still up in the air.
"(Assistant) Coach Cal (Beamon) says I should have my own talk show," Williams added with a laugh. "He said I could be the next Oprah. If I was the next Oprah, my mom would definitely have the finest of things."
Through all of the family struggles, Taylor and Gloria constantly inspire each other. Taylor has a tattoo on her left forearm that reads "This too shall pass."
"The tattoo just reminds me if I am struggling, or if I'm missing my family, or if I had a bad day of softball or got a bad grade, I look at it and say `this too shall pass' and `things will always get better,'" Williams said. "I know it's not the worst thing that can happen. When my mom is struggling, I'll send her a picture of that tattoo."
For now, Williams can't wait to have her family on campus.
"She's been able to see me play once per year," Williams said of the family making long drives to places such as LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M when the Gamecocks played there. "This will be the first time she'll see me play in our stadium. It's going to mean the world to me. I just know how proud she is of me. We're both emotional people. She's probably going to cry and be so happy to see me play, but most of all to see me graduate. I'm the only person in my family to graduate from college.
"I wish she could be at every game, and I know she wishes she could be, too. Everything happens for a reason. I know she's always watching. She sends me long inspirational messages. I want my mom to be happy. I want her to be proud of me. She has all of these bright ideas. She makes me want to have more visions and to have bigger dreams. I want to do so good for her."
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