Viewpoint: Making Choices

  • 21 November 2012

“Each of us has come to this earth with all the tools necessary to make correct choices.” —President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

There are those rare moments when a sports photograph becomes a transcendent image.

Consider the iconic black-and-white shot of a young Mohammed Ali towering over a fallen Sonny Liston, the photo of a terminally ill Lou Gehrig bidding a graceful farewell inside a crowded Yankee Stadium, or, perhaps, the image of an airborne Michael Jordan hurdling himself toward the basket

There’s another, less familiar sports photo that belongs in that immortal collection. It captures a pair of college softball players making the right decision at a deciding moment of an important game. The names of the athletes in the photo won’t resonate with most sports fans—but the actions of those young women teach a timeless lesson.

On April 26, 2008, Sara Tucholsky, a senior on the Western Oregon University softball team, stepped into the batter’s box in the early innings of a game against rival Central Washington. The contest was important for both teams. Playoff berths were on the line.  

The diminutive Sara took a mighty swing at a pitch and knocked the ball over the left field fence. Then the unexpected happened. Sara accidently missed touching first base during her home run trot around the base path. When she pivoted back to touch the bag her cleats landed awkwardly in the ground and she tore a major ligament in her right knee.

Sara fell to the ground in agony and was unable to continue her required run around the bases. Her teammates could do nothing to help. The umpires—misinterpreting the rulebook at such a bizarre moment—declared that Sara would be called out if anyone from her team assisted her around the bases. Her run would be taken off the score sheet.

But nothing was said about prohibiting help from someone on the opposing team. Without hesitation, Central Washington first base player Mallory Holtman, who was facing her final collegiate game if her team were to lose, chose to help her opponent score the home run she had rightfully earned. Mallory, along with teammate Liz Wallace, gently picked up Sara and carried her along the base path. They stopped at each bag—from first base to home plate—so Sara could touch the bases in compliance with the rules.

It was the first home run of her college career.

“Thank you, guys,” said a relieved and grateful Sara.

“You hit it over the fence,” replied Mallory. “You deserve it.”

Sara’s team would go on to win the game and Central Washington did not advance to the playoffs. A Sports Illustrated account of the game noted that Mallory, a fiery competitor, wept following the loss.

An amateur photographer snapped what is believed to be the only image of the three young women and their shared sojourn along the bases (that photo has appeared on thousands of billboards promoting sportsmanship). And video footage captured by a player’s parent of that inspiring home run trot was posted on YouTube. It has recorded almost 700,000 hits.

Who would have guessed that a softball game between two small colleges would offer a timeless moment of good will that would be celebrated across the globe? Why did the spontaneous, selfless actions of a pair of young athletes seem to resonate with so many?

Perhaps there is a natural, even divine appreciation for those who do the correct thing—a comforting affirmation that comes from simply choosing the right. The agency to make such decisions is a gift from God.

“Each of us has come to this earth with all the tools necessary to make correct choices,” declared President Thomas S. Monson during the October 2010 general conference. “The prophet Mormon tells us, ‘The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.’”

The Savior exercised agency and selflessly chose to offer His perfect life to help each of us break the chains of sin and death. And by His perfect life, He taught us that when we choose to do what is right, our agency is preserved and our opportunities increase.

In his talk, (“Agency: Essential to the Plan of Life,” Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “Job lost everything he had yet chose to remain faithful, and he gained the eternal blessings of God. Mary and Joseph chose to follow the warning of an angel to flee into Egypt, and the life of the Savior was preserved. Joseph Smith chose to follow the instructions of Moroni, and the Restoration unfolded as prophesied. Whenever we choose to come unto Christ, take His name upon us, and follow His servants, we progress along the path to eternal life.

“In our mortal journey, it is helpful to remember that the opposite is also true: when we don’t keep the commandments or follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, our opportunities are reduced; our abilities to act and progress are diminished.”

In his address during the October 2011 general conference, Elder Randall K. Bennett of the Seventy has suggested four questions that can help us evaluate our own choices—and their consequences.

  • Am I seeking divine direction through daily scripture study, pondering, and prayer?
  • Am I choosing to follow the counsel of living prophets of God?
  • Am I seeking the guidance of the Holy Ghost daily in what I choose to think about, feel, and do?
  • Am I consistently reaching out to assist, serve, or help rescue others?

May each of us be guided in our choices.