Stepping up to bat this week in the ongoing Washington Blade series on local athletes from the local LGBT sports community are two players from the Chesapeake and Potomac Softball League.
The League offers three seasons and has about 400 players in multiple divisions for both men and women.
After graduating from Marymount University in 2009, Heather Walker-Leahy stayed in the area and began working at Lace. She started playing in the Chesapeake and Potomac Softball League (CAPS) in 2010 in the left field position.
Growing up in Philadelphia, she played both softball and basketball through high school and played basketball for Marymount until injuries knocked her out in her junior year.
“I hadn’t played softball in a long time and I was immediately drawn to the incredible CAPS community,” says Walker-Leahy. “It’s a networking hotbed and I met my wife playing in the league.”
Walker-Leahy plays for the Capital Cougars and in 2012, she met her future wife Cassandra who plays for the Honey Hitters, also in the left field position. After marrying in 2015, they continue to play on opposing teams in the League.
“We are both very competitive but we are able to leave it on the field and not bring it home,” Walker-Leahy says. “We do play together on the travel team, D.C. Swag.”
On that team, they have traveled together to a tournament in Philadelphia and the world series in Kansas City. Next week they will head to the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America’s world series with what Walker-Leahy says is their best travel team yet.
Interested in raising her fitness level, Walker-Leahy began taking Muay Thai kickboxing classes in 2015 and made her debut as an amateur fighter in January of this year. Now training full-time, this September she will have her first professional match as part of Capital MMA.
“MMA has allowed me to grow mentally, get to know myself and compete with myself,” Walker-Leahy says. “It makes having the CAPS team environment with members of my own community even better.”
Gary Stradiotto grew up in Santa Clarita, Calif., playing little league baseball and neighborhood sports. He backed off in high school and focused on education, earning his undergraduate degree at Indiana University, his graduate degree from San Francisco State and his Ph.D from U.C. Davis.
Performing research for his dissertation brought him to D.C. in 2009 and he remained in the area after accepting a job at the American Red Cross. A friend playing with the CAPS sparked an interest and he joined the league in 2012.
“I realized how much I missed playing ball and how much fun it is to compete,” Stradiotto says. “I also ended up traveling a few times, playing a tournament in Philadelphia and in the Sin City Shootout.”
First baseman Stradiotto joined a new team this season, D.C. Heatwave, and on May 21 as he was thrown out running to first base, he dropped to one knee and went into sudden cardiac death. If not for the quick actions of his new teammates, one of which had a defibrillator on hand, the outcome could have been quite different.
“I have no recollection of anything that happened that day,” Stradiotto says. “I am lucky that my new teammates were there to treat me until the ambulance arrived.”
The diagnosis was two blockages in two arteries along with failed arrhythmia. Doctors inserted a stent along with a heart monitor implant and Stradiotto remained in a treatment center for three weeks. Just released this past week, his prognosis is good but he still has a lot of physical therapy and cardiologist appointments ahead of him.
“I was going to the gym up to five days a week and the doctor says I can return to that activity along with softball,” Stradiotto says. “At this point though, I still have a lot of trepidation.”
After returning home from his lengthy hospital stay, Stradiotto discovered that he had been wearing his fit belt which had emailed him his heart-tracking levels that day through the MYZONE app.
“I didn’t even know I had been wearing it and the results told the weirdest story,” Stradiotto says. “It spiked to level red and then it just went blank. I had never even approached the red level when I worked out.”
Now that he is on the mend physically and hoping to gain back the 25 pounds he lost, Stradiotto will also be addressing the mental barriers that come with a medical incident.
“I think when I have more energy and my strength comes back, I can consider the possibility of getting back into sports,” Stradiotto says. “Right now, I just don’t know.”