Glib. Personal. Funny. Introspective. Emotional.
Dot Richardson was all that and more during her Friday afternoon press conference at First Interstate Bank.
The Big Sky State Games torch lighter impressed a small audience reliving her Olympic glory and sharing her message of providing opportunities for the next generation of athletes.
But it was a moment after most had left and the cameras were turned off that left the biggest impact.
While signing autographs, Richardson was approached by a young softball player who had a question. “How do you overcome negativity?” the young athlete asked.
Richardson, a two-time gold medal winner with the U.S. women’s softball team, stopped signing and had three softball players sit right in front of her. She proceeded with a 15-minute talk to just the girls that began with softball and transformed into an emotional life discussion.
The power of the message left the players, a mother and those waiting in tears.
“That’s what it’s all about, helping others in a positive way,” Richardson said of taking the time to directly visit with the three girls. “We have to do more for these young athletes.”
During the press conference, Richardson shared stories of her first Olympic experience and hitting the game-winning home run against China in the 1996 Olympic Games.
“I was 6 when I saw my first Olympics,” said Richardson, of watching the 1968 Games in Mexico City on television. “I saw the men’s pole vault. He landed in the pit after his vault and looked up. When he saw the bar had stayed on, he knew he won and I remember throwing his arms up in celebration.
“I had a dream that night. I dreamt that I was on a podium bending down, receiving a gold medal.”
That dream became a reality for Richardson 28 years later in Atlanta.
“Power of the dream,” she said slowly, holding up both her gold medals.
Part of Richardson’s presentation included a short video of her game-winning home run against China for the U.S.’s first gold medal in softball.
It was a pitch that had a great back story, according to Richardson.
Two days earlier, the same Chinese pitcher got Richardson to swing at a changeup on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded.
“Who throws a changeup in that situation?” Richardson said with a laugh. “That one spun me into the ground. As I went back to the dugout, I wanted to make sure I learned from it.”
Richardson found herself against the same pitcher in the gold medal game with a 2-0 count and two runners on.
“I knew if she threw that again, it was her go-to pitch, I was going to rip the cover off the ball,” Richardson recalled. “I didn’t care if it was fair or foul. I just wanted to hit it so hard to make sure she never threw that pitch again.”
Richardson ripped a low line drive that hugged the right field line.
“When I saw it go over the right-field wall … I like reliving it,” she said. “It shows the celebration of opportunity to compete at the highest level of sport.”
Richardson, currently the head coach at Liberty University, was accompanied to Billings by her mother, Joyce, and sisters Kathy Seacat and Laurie Rozier. The group drove over from Bozeman, where Richardson has family.
“I took pictures all along the way,” she said.
Softball is not part of this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But the sport could be returning, along with baseball, for the 2020 Games in Japan.
“I heard it has a strong chance of being reinstated,” said Richardson, who is also an orthopedic surgeon. “I heard the International Olympic Committee will approve five sports, with softball being one of them.
“Japan, which won the gold in 2008, is pushing for it. I think it really has a good shot.”
Softball was an Olympic sport from 1996 to 2008.
“Now so many young players are being denied that opportunity,” she said. “There will be athletes at the Big Sky State Games this weekend who have Olympic dreams.
“What can we do as a society to keep giving these opportunities?”