Laura Beall graduated 15th in her senior class at Pope High and was Georgia Dugout Club’s Class AAAAA fast-pitch player of the year in 2012. Beall, a freshman at Georgia Tech, recalls how tough it was to take the “athlete” out of “student-athlete.”

As told to Todd Holcomb, for the AJC

When I told people I was going to Georgia Tech, they thought I was playing softball. I said, “No, I’m just going to be a normal student and focus on my education.” I wanted to study industrial engineering at Tech and did not want softball to take away from my academics and the overall college experience. I also felt it would be difficult to participate in programs like study abroad, co-ops and internships. This summer I’m going to Europe for 11 weeks on the Oxford Study Abroad Program. I’ll travel to 10 countries and take classes on the road. It would be hard to play a sport and be off all summer.

I started playing softball when I was 5 and have played over a thousand games since then. I tore my ACL my junior year and missed the 2012 travel season and the first part of my senior high school season. I had a successful senior year in softball and wanted to play travel ball one last time. My last team was the East Cobb Bullets Gold. Playing for the Bullets allowed me to play at the highest level and compete against the best D-1 prospects in the country. Our team placed fifth in Premier Fastpitch, which was a huge accomplishment. I also had the opportunity to catch the No. 1 2015 pitcher in the country.

When softball players are young, they start thinking about college. They’re making recruiting videos and emailing coaches. I had interest from colleges early, but realized my education was going to be my future, and softball would be over in four years, regardless. People never stopped trying to convince me to play college ball, all the way up to my last game. Girls on my team went on to play at D-1 schools all over the country, but I had proven to myself that I could play at this level, but chose not to.

If you love your sport and it’s your dream, then you should play in college. You should not play simply because you are good or to fulfill someone else’s dream. When I look back at my decision not to play at the collegiate level, I know I made the right choice. Although I miss softball and the competition, I am happy with my decision and have never regretted ending my career when I did.