SPARKS - Softball icon Jennie Finch presents an interesting conundrum. While it's an established fact that dealing with adversity develops character, Finch leaves one wondering if dealing with success has developed her character or if her character has enabled her to deal with success in an admirable way.
The 26-year-old Finch, a native of La Mirada, Calif., rose to prominence as a pitcher for the Arizona Wildcats before going on to winning a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics for Team USA.
Finch was the keynote speaker for Pack PAWS - a fundraiser for women's athletics at the University of Nevada - at the Rose Ballroom in John Ascuaga's Nugget.
Dressed in a tan pants suit, it was easy to see why Finch was voted in an ESPN poll over tennis star and model Anna Kournikova as the most attractive female athlete.
But fame, success and beauty are secondary issues for Finch, who instead lives for her faith, family, softball and to supply young girls with a positive role model.
Finch, who is also an ESPN fantasy expert analyst, married to Casey Daigle (a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondback's Triple-A team in Tuscon) and mother of the couple's 11-month boy, Ace, declined Playboy's offer to pose nude and capitalize on her success in order to pursue her own values.
"I think it was my upbringing along with faith and family support keeping me grounded," Finch said of her decision not to pursue the financial rewards and other opportunities afforded by posing for the popular men's magazine. "My older brother said to me, 'Do you want kids to walk into the store and point at the magazine and have someone say, You can't have that?' That hit me in the heart."
Finch instead chose to appear in the 2005 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and keep concentrating on the things that mattered to her most.
In addition to preparing for the challenge of representing Team USA in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Finch has tackled the task of marriage, motherhood and the never-ending demands on her limited time.
"I know busy very well," Finch said with a smile. "It's my middle name, practically. Being a mom, traveling, I have a summer camp coming up, playing for the (National Professional Fastpitch Softball League's) Chicago Bandits and playing for Team USA in the Pan Am Games in the summer in Brazil, then the Olympic Trials in September.
"I have a lot of speaking engagements, Ace and catching up with my husband where he's playing."
Couples with a child and a 9-to-5 job can vouch for the difficulty in keeping together a family and Finch said the couple's shared beliefs, sports background and technology have helped them immensely in their incredible balancing act.
"Our faith plays a big part of that," said Finch, a Christian. "Long distance has been a known (thing) for us since we met. With cell phones and a computer camera, he can see Ace grow up. We take advantage of the time we have together."
And Finch has a great travel partner.
"Ace is a trooper," Finch said. "He travels with me. It's great for keeping busy."
It's been a long journey for Finch, who began playing softball when she was 5 and started pitching when she was 8. She threw 49 miles per hour at 8, adding between 2-4 mph each year until she was 22, when she attained her current 71-mph pitch. She credits her father's invention - the Finch Windmill (which she began using when she was 10) - for her continued success and relatively injury-free career ("Just three-and-half minutes a day," she said of the Finch Windmill).
Asked if the journey or reaping the benefits of success in that journey was better, Finch, who won a record 60 consecutive games at Arizona (she also went 32-0 in 2001, won the College World Series and was named the nation's best player), had a quick answer.
"Definitely the journey to the dream is the best part," Finch said. "Once you're there, you're there. It's the journey you appreciate and the people that supported you on the way to your dream."
Competing in the 2008 Olympics will be a bittersweet time for Finch, who expressed her disbelief that softball will no longer be an Olympic sport following Beijing.
"It makes it very special. Women's softball is at an all-time high," Finch said. "For the sport to be cut is heartbreaking. To take away the dream of being on Team USA is unfair. The reality is there are 15 girls on the team. It's a good dream, but (playing in) the pro league is more attainable. There are six franchises and hopefully more are coming up.
"I don't know if we're stuck under the baseball umbrella with steroids or where the best players don't go. I don't know who to blame. It's sad for the youth of tomorrow."
Finch said she would continue to conduct her Jennie Finch Softball Camp to try and keep the sport she loves going.
As for her own future following the Olympics, Finch said it's up in the air.
"I don't know where I'm going to go," she said. "We'll see. I enjoy commentary and I love going out and meeting youths."
If her past is any indication, Finch's faith, character and ability to deal with both adversity and success should put her in admirable place where she can continue to be a positive role model.