She is preparing to pitch this summer for Team Canada, with the ultimate goal of making the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where softball is back for the first time since 2008.

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It’s at once jarring and exhilarating to see Danielle Lawrie back in the pitching circle, a familiar look of intensity on her face as she rockets the ball toward the plate.

It’s easy to be transported back to 2009, when Lawrie was the toast of college softball while leading the University of Washington to the NCAA title in a still-legendary feat of durability and dominance.

But it’s 2018, and Lawrie is now known as Lawrie-Locke, 31 years old, married with two young children. The team she is facing in a batting practice session this past Wednesday is a group of slightly awed kids from Everett High School. And she’s exhausted.

There’s a serious purpose behind her work, which is followed by a similar session on Thursday at Huskies practice and capped by an extended appearance in a UW scrimmage Saturday at Husky Softball Stadium.

Yes, after being retired for three years, happily settled into full-time motherhood with an occasional gig commentating for ESPN and Pac-12 Network, Lawrie-Locke is making a comeback.

She is preparing to pitch this summer for Team Canada, with the ultimate goal of making the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where softball is back for the first time since 2008.

It’s been an arduous road back for Lawrie-Locke, rife with the painful physical ordeal of getting her body, and specifically her magical right arm, back in shape for elite international competition. Lawrie-Locke has had to deal with the mental challenge of getting geared up again after all this time. And there’s the logistical element of doing all this while juggling child care for 4-year-old Madison and 1-year-old Audrey.

Along the way, Lawrie-Locke has discovered that the softball field is still her sanctuary. And the appreciation she has for the sport that has consumed her life since her childhood in Langley, B.C., has grown deeper, and maybe even purer.

“I think back in the day when I played, I did it because I was naturally pretty good,’’ Lawrie-Locke said, resting in the bleachers after the workout in Everett. “And I did enjoy it. But now making the choice to take time away from my family and kids and really having to make that time makes me realize I’m very much in love with the game again.

“Even when it stinks sometimes and I say, ‘Man, my arm hurts,’ I enjoy the grind.”

Lawrie-Locke had last pitched in the summer of 2014 for the professional Florida Pride, based in Kissimmee. She and her husband, Drew, settled in the Boston area, near Drew’s family, but relocated to Mill Creek in April 2015. And then, last summer, after a family vacation in Cape Cod, Lawrie-Locke put the little one down for a nap and fatefully turned on the television.

The World Cup of Softball was on. The announcer was Michele Smith, an All-American and Olympic pitching star whom Lawrie-Locke had long admired. Smith was asked when she felt she was at her best as a professional athlete, and she replied, “34, 35.”

And back in Mill Creek, those words exploded in Lawrie-Locke’s brain like one of her fastball’s into the catcher’s mitt. Lawrie-Locke had an epiphany, telling herself, “Man, I would really like to make a run at it.”

The fact that the Olympics were back certainly fueled her decision. So did the fact that her previous Olympic experience, with Team Canada in 2008, had not gone well, marred by clashes with the coach. She saw this as a chance to create happier memories.

The next step, after getting husband Drew on board, was to call her old Husky pitching coach, Lance Glasoe, to see if he would work with her. No one knows Lawrie-Locke’s mechanics better than Glasoe.

“He’s the one I would need to have on my side helping me,’’ she said.

Both Glasoe and Husky coach Heather Tarr bought into the comeback early, offering support, coaching and facilities. Considering that Lawrie-Locke’s retired number 15 is hanging in right field, the only so-honored player in program history, it was an easy decision to welcome back the two-time Collegiate Player of the Year into their proximity.

“It’s pretty comforting to me, personally, just knowing how valuable she is as a resource to our program,’’ Tarr said. “Of course, she can’t coach or really advise the players, but just her presence alone, them watching a 30-year-old woman continue to get after it every day, possibly harder than any of us still do, it’s pretty amazing.”

The final step was to call the head coach of Team Canada, Mark Smith, and lay out her plan. Considering the baggage she carried from past experiences on national teams post-Olympics, it was vital for Smith to fully endorse the comeback.

“I wanted to let him know where my head was at, especially about stuff in the past where we had butted heads over things, and I took a lot of blame on myself,’’ she said. “So he knew I’m really making this a clean slate type of deal. I had so much animosity from the Olympics I think I almost took it out on him.”

Smith invited Lawrie-Locke to participate in Team Canada’s selection camp in Fort Myers, Fla., last January, where she made the first cutdown to 22 players, along with former Husky teammate Jenn Salling and another ex-Husky, Victoria Hayward. Now she is training for the final selection camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif., May 30 to June 10.

Also on tap for Team Canada this summer is the World Cup of Softball in Irvine, Calif., July 9-15, and the Canada Cup July 13-22 in Surrey, B.C., which has the added benefit of allowing Lawrie-Locke to stay at her parents’ nearby home with the girls. Then comes the biggie, the WSBC Women’s Softball World Championship that will take place Aug. 2-12 in Chiba, Japan, and serve as the first Olympic qualifier.

Right now, Lawrie-Locke is stepping up her workouts and trying to come to terms with the new normal for her. Part of that, of course, is the constant challenge of arranging child care. Sometimes she brings the girls with her to Everett, where the coach is the father of a girl she had been giving lessons to. She has found a softball player from Everett Community College who has agreed to nanny the kids while she is away.

“That’s wonderful,’’ she said, “but it’s still really stressful. I’ve never been away from them longer than a week. The first leg will be three weeks where I’m away. I don’t know how it’s going to be. I wish I had an answer.’’

The other main challenge for Lawrie-Locke is wrapping her brain around the fact that her past dominance — which included four perfect games and the fourth-most strikeouts in NCAA history and an 82-13 record over her final two seasons at Washington — is not likely be replicated. Nor will she be able to throw virtually every game like she once did.

“Even throwing today, I’m like, holy … I’m tired,’’ she said in Everett. “I’ve made this decision to potentially figure out whatever the new role is. If it means I’m a starter and go a couple of innings, if it means I’m a closer — but I think that is harder for me to come to terms with.”

Though Lawrie-Locke says it took a month and a half just to get to a point where her body didn’t hurt, Tarr and Glasoe are seeing the work pay off.

Glasoe says that Lawrie-Locke’s off-speed stuff “is still as good as there is in the country. She hasn’t lost the timing or her overall feel for the game, so that part has been really fun to work with.”

Throwing batting practice at UW on Thursday, Lawrie-Locke was timed at 67 to 68 mph, which at 43 feet from the plate is roughly the equivalent of a high-90 mph fastball in baseball. As Glasoe pointed out, that’s 2 or 3 mph faster than she threw in her prime in the College World Series.

“Everyone thought she threw really hard. She never really threw really hard,’’ he said. “She could touch really hard, but her offspeed stuff is so good it always speeds everything else up.”

Glasoe also recalls Lawrie’s indomitable competitive spirit as the difference maker in college

“She might be the only student-athlete I’ve ever been around who could will something to happen and people would believe her,’’ he said. “If she said, ‘Get me one (run),’ 20 teammates said, ‘Let’s get one and we’ll be OK.’ ’’

As Lawrie-Locke tries to resummon that mindset, she has a new secret weapon.

“I think her mom strength is what’s going to carry her through,’’ Glasoe said.

Tarr agrees. “It’s interesting, because she has that little X factor of, she’s given birth. It gives you so much strength and power, but also perspective. She’s as competitive as she ever was. She’s as strong as she always was.

“Now, she hasn’t pitched in competitive games. You can’t do anything about that. But I think that’s going to be for her like riding a bike, where she has all these other strengths she’s gained by getting married, having kids, balancing being a mom, all that stuff you don’t get to be and do in college.

“She could be at her best. Whatever that is — we’ve seen her in amazing times. Can she be better than that? I don’t know if she can be better than that, but she can be just as good, if not better in other ways.”

It will be, Lawrie-Locke says, an adventure, one she is fully embracing. And, she hastens to add, it will be a one-off. When the Olympics end, so does her comeback, particularly with the thought of perhaps having another child.

“Obviously, this is a huge goal I’m going after and will do everything in my power to achieve what the team wants and however I can help,’’ she said. “But when it’s done, I’m done, and I’m totally OK with that.”

Right now, though, you can find Danielle Lawrie-Locke back in the center of a softball diamond, ready to uncoil. And that’s still a beautiful thing to behold.

UW’s top Dawg
Danielle Lawrie leads the Huskies softball record book in most pitching categories and threw six no-hitters during her years with Washington (2006-10).
Statistic Player UW record
Career wins Danielle Lawrie 136
Complete games Danielle Lawrie 149
Shutouts Danielle Lawrie 65
Innings pitched Danielle Lawrie 1,190.2
Strikeouts Danielle Lawrie 1,860
Walks/7 inns. Jamie Graves (’97-00) 1.04
Career ERA Jennifer Spediacci (’97-00) 1.10
Appearances Danielle Lawrie 194
Win percentage Heather Meyer (’95-96) 84.8%
Source: UW athletics