October 2023 Athlete of the Month
By Del Moon, NSGA PR Specialist
Janet Mitchell, 67
It’s not easy to deal with the shock of a breast cancer diagnosis, but Janet Mitchell says softball and her team helped her overcome the challenge five years ago.
Janet hardly knows a time when she wasn’t on the diamond. “I was on my first organized team at nine years old, and I’ve been on some kind of team every year since then, except the COVID year,” she says. “I was in an active family with three athletic brothers and a sister. I’m lucky because my mom played sports in high school in the 1940’s. She never said, ‘Girls shouldn’t play sports.’ She said, ‘Go out there and play!”
Since she was able to qualify and join in, Janet’s Maryland Roadrunners softball team has always been on the medal stand at the state level and for the past 10 National Senior Games, toting gold more often than not. She’s quick to note the reason for their success was not due to her or any other star players, but to continuity and team unity.
“Incredibly, we have 12 players who have been together since 2005 in the Roadrunners,” she says. “We don’t have a big softball organization with multiple teams near us like in some parts of the country. There are more available players in those areas, so we have tended to stick together. We are so successful on the field because of our positive, supportive chemistry.”
“I started with this team at age 50, and we now play in 65+,” she continues. “Half of our players will be eligible next year to move up to the 70+ division, but we will wait until everyone ages up before we go to the next division. We are a family of sisters.”
Janet enjoyed a healthy life with no major medical problems other than “a bazillion knee surgeries which most of us players have had at some point.” That changed in early 2018 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Five weeks later, she opted for a bilateral mastectomy. “If they were going to take one breast they might as well take both so I wouldn’t have to wear a prosthetic for the rest of my life,” she explains. While it was a harrowing experience, Janet is grateful to her extended family who helped her overcome the challenges.
“I was never alone. There are women on my team and many of my age in the softball community who have had the same experience, so I was able to get advice before the fact and the support afterwards has been great. On the field we are competitive as all get out, but off the field we have friends for life. It’s a community of athletes who were there every step of the way for me.”
In addition to the support system, having the desire to get back into the game was a big motivation for her recovery. “It’s part of who I am, and I needed to get back out there,” she says. “We travel, play, eat, hike, laugh, cry and enjoy being together for tournaments,” she emphasizes. “With them by my side, I have no fears about whatever might come my way – we’ll handle it as a family.”
Three months after her procedure, Janet had a trip planned with some teammates to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back with a 35-pound backpack, and she was not sure if her doctor would approve. “Luckily, my breast surgeon is a hiker and told me, ‘If I have to bind you up, you’re going on that trip!’ And I did! After that, rejoining the Roadrunners on the field for tournaments was a piece of cake.”
In March of this year, her oncologist gave the good news that she did not need to continue with medications after five years and her prognosis is good. Janet, an outfielder who shares team management with fellow player Mary Byrnes, is thankful to be looking forward to going to Des Moines for the 2025 National Senior Games. “We have a great chemistry and enjoy each other so much. That’s what makes us successful. We’re not always the strongest team on the field, but we win a lot of games because we just never quit and pull for each other.”
“We’ve had a good run for sure and it’s been fun,” she concludes. “We have such a good time it makes the playing part easy.”