The game of softball has always given Stevie Wisz purpose.
Over the last month, though, it has given her even more.
As her softball career ends, Wisz, the former Righetti High standout who walked on to the team at UCLA, has found a new way to channel what the game has given her.
Wisz has discovered that her story of perseverance, pain, and faith is valuable. Not only to her, but to just about everyone who hears it.
"I've come to the conclusion, the realization, that my purpose on this earth is to make other people appreciate and acknowledge just how special and capable they are," Wisz said Wednesday night. "I know my story was meant to be out there and help inspire other people."
Wisz's story starts when doctors diagnosed her with aortic stenosis as a 1-year-old. What followed was her first open-heart surgery at the age of 9, a pacemaker implanted a year later and another open-heart surgery when Wisz was 15 after doctors discovered her aorta was leaking.
Surgeons replaced the faulty valve in her heart with one from a pig.
Through it all, Wisz became one of the top softball players on the Central Coast, eventually winning a CIF title with Righetti. She was also one of the top students in high school and qualified to attend UCLA, where she worked her way on to the softball team.
Friends, family and teammates were aware of Wisz's battle with heart disease while she was growing up in Orcutt.
Then last month, ESPN profiled the 21-year-old's journey and her decision to postpone a third life-saving open-heart surgery until after her UCLA softball career was complete.
Wisz's story began to receive national attention. The UCLA softball team, meanwhile, kept winning, eventually claiming the NCAA national title earlier this month.
The profile on Wisz, written by ESPN's Wayne Drehs before the start of the Women's College World Series, sparked a wave of coverage by just about every major media network. She was interviewed for a piece on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. She appeared on ESPN's SportsCenter.
Writers from the New York Post, Los Angeles Times and just about everywhere in between have profiled her journey.
On Monday night, she was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium. Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen, who's also had heart surgery, invited her to throw out the first pitch after he read about Wisz.
Wednesday night, she threw out the first pitch at the area's All-Star softball game. When she arrived at the field, Wisz was swarmed by young softball players, all seemingly inspired by her. She spent half an hour taking photos and signing autographs.
"It's just been a roller coaster of emotions," Wisz said, describing her life over the last month. "Mainly highs, a little bit of lows. Just knowing that my team and everyone in this community has my back has been super awesome. I've been honored to share my story and reach so many different people."
Wisz, who graduated from UCLA with a degree in biology last week, now faces a third surgery scheduled for Friday at USC. She'll undergo a type of open-heart surgery she has never faced before. Doctors will perform what is called a Ross procedure, replacing the faulty pig valve with her own pulmonary valve. Her pulmonary valve will then be replaced with one from a cadaver.
Wisz can't wait.
"I'm excited to get it over with, to feel better and to wake up knowing that I did it and I was able to overcome another one," Wisz said Wednesday. "I'm really looking forward to getting it over with and being healthier and stronger than before."
Proceeds raised by Wednesday's All-Star game will be donated to help pay for Wisz's surgery. The crowd was standing-room only.
"Honestly, we're never caught up as far as medical bills go," said Melissa Wisz, Stevie's mother. "This has been going on since she had just turned 1. There are several doctors that let us make payments as we go. Our portions that we have to pay, even with private insurance, are hefty. Now she's on her own private insurance, which is costly. It's very worrisome, but we do whatever we can as parents and we'll do whatever we can to get through it."
Winning was secondary Wednesday night, said Xiao Gin and Ashley Daugherty. Still, they said, it was nice to win. "It's always nice to play the game," Gin, an Oregon State signee who pitched for San Luis Obispo in high school, said after her North team defeated the South 5-0 at Hancock College in an abbreviated second annual area North-South Softball game.