When not taking time off from Softball to perform surgery, she does the opposite. At home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Richardson created a crude batting cage, using a tee and a large net, in a bedroom of the third-floor apartment she shares with Fernandez. She would come home from the hospital in some small hour of the night and, with each swing, kiss softballs and her security deposit goodbye. Richardson would then fall asleep and have genuine dreams—"sleeping dreams"—of homering on the first pitch of her first at bat in the Olympics, though she is not a home run hitter. She woke one morning and found an anonymous note taped to the door. "If you're going to train for the Olympics," it read, "please do it at a decent hour."
"It was sarcastic," says Fernandez. "Nobody knew we really were training for the Olympics."
To look at their day jobs, the notion simply wouldn't occur to you: For five years Michele Smith has taught English to Toyota employees in Kariya, Japan. She speaks Japanese, loves the Asian culture and only occasionally pitches in Japan's industrial Softball league. The fact that she pitches at all is a remarkable feat in its own right. Exactly 10 years ago this past Sunday, while her father was driving her home to Califon, N.J., from an oral surgeon's appointment, the sleeping Smith was thrown from the truck when her door opened on a turn. She careered into a roadside post, chopped off part of her elbow bone and tore the triceps from her left arm—her pitching arm. "It was like losing my identity," she says. Smith resolved then to broaden her horizons, not knowing that she would do so literally and live in another hemisphere.
"If you'd have asked me five or six years ago, I'd have thought I'd be a thoracic or cardiovascular surgeon by now," she says. "But I realized that the central theme of what I wanted to do was to help people and make a difference in lives. On the field, I can help little kids. It might not be in an O.R. suite, but to put your hands on their shoulders and see their eyes light up and hear them say they want to be like me someday, that's my proudest moment as an athlete."
Likewise, children can look to Sheila Cornell, a double major in psychology and kinesiology at UCLA who achieved her master's in physical therapy from USC with a 3.96 GPA. Granger graduated from Cal-Berkeley with a double-major in history and mass communications. "I'd like to work for a publisher," she says, "and read books all day."
"These women are all well-educated," says Richardson, who hit a home run to dead centerfield in her fourth Olympic at bat on Sunday. "And that's a reflection that we know, as women, that the farthest we can go in athletics is to get a scholarship, and with it an education, and then be a contributor to society for the rest of our lives."
So, which is the real Dream Team? Says Richardson, "I guess it depends on what your dream is."
Over 10 days in a genuinely global competition, members of the U.S. softball team are likely to become champions of the world. But win or lose, they say, they will champion the world. "There have been a lot of complaints that these Olympics are very commercial," says Smith, "and that's going to happen whenever professional sports get involved. But we are all amateurs. We do not get paid to play anywhere. To me, money is not what makes the world go around. My happiness is not based on my bank account. Sometimes, I'll be on the mound and step back and think that there are people lying on operating tables right now, with their chests cracked open, and someone is reaching in with their hands, working on their heart."
And it's nice to know, isn't it? These days, when everyone seems to have their hands on your wallet, there are still people reaching in with their hands, working on your heart.