After Loeta Odle died in May, Jenae Leles discovered a fourth-grade prophecy that she had made to her beloved grandmother.
"She was my best friend growing up. I spent almost every weekend with her," said Leles, 25. "So when we were going through her things, we found a diary that I had given her. I had written that when I grow up, I'm going to play for the USA Women's National Team, travel to Canada and play in the Olympics."
Two of the three predictions have come true for the Fair Oaks resident. Leles is a member of Team USA that begins play in the International Softball Federation World Championship today in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada.
Leles, however, will not play in the Summer Olympics in London.
Softball was voted out of the Olympics in 2005, mainly because of the USA's longtime dominance of the sport. The decision came three years before the USA lost to Japan for Olympic gold in Beijing, snapping a 22-game USA Olympic winning streak dating back eight years.
The 2008 Games also were held one year before the former Rio Americano High School star and Arizona slugger she played on two NCAA championship teams and hit 57 career home runs made the first of three USA national teams.
"It's disappointing how things have worked out as far as the Olympics," Leles said. "But we still have the World Championships and other international competitions like the World Cup and the Pan American Games.
"So there's still plenty to be thankful for. Nothing compares to wearing the red, white and blue and being able to represent your country."
In her Team USA tenure, Leles has played across the globe. But never has she played in a major championship in a place quite like Whitehorse, a town of 25,000 located in Canada's remote northwest Yukon territory.
It's called the "Wilderness City" for a reason. The days are long (20 hours of daylight) and the July temperatures, at least by Leles' standards, are frigid (highs in the mid-60s).
"I hate cold weather," Leles said. "I run best on solar power."
The World Championship, which concludes July 22, is the last leg on what has been a marathon seven-week tour that included stops in West Virginia, Ohio, Oklahoma City and Surrey, British Columbia.
Team USA won 14 games against international competition but not its most recent. Japan beat the Americans 9-6 Monday in an eight-inning international tiebreaker in the Canadian Open FastPitch Championship.
"When you play Japan, you expect excellence, and you've got to be mentally ready," Leles said. "If there was any consolation, it's that it happened before the World Championships. I think we've learned from that loss."
Leles, once a wide-eyed rookie facing the offerings of high-profile pitching stars Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman, is now one of the oldest players on a team comprised mainly of collegians or recent graduates.
"My first year, I was pretty much a mute," Leles said. "But now I'm comfortable with the coaches and asking questions and speaking my mind."
But her team-first attitude hasn't changed. She has started games and watched others from the bench, including the loss to Japan. Mostly a third baseman, she also has played first base, outfield and been a designated hitter.
"We have 17 of the best girls in the country, perhaps the world, so we can have 10 different lineups and still be the best team," Leles said. "I think that's what helps in our success. There are no selfish personalities on this team."
After playing for Team USA in 2009, Leles didn't make Team USA the next season, playing instead on the second-tier Futures Team. That steeled her resolve.
"I love to compete," Leles said. "I just wanted it even more and went after it even harder."
Team USA coach Ken Eriksen saw Leles' determination.
"You could tell that not only did she get better between the lines, but she got better outside the lines," Eriksen told the Norman (Okla.) Transcript earlier this month. " I remember her coming up to me at the end of that one year saying, 'I'm coming back. I'm going to work by butt off.' You find out who has the heart to wear the USA and who doesn't. She has the heart."
With the next World Championship scheduled for the Netherlands in 2014 and with the possibility of softball being reinstated for the 2020 Olympics, Leles has no thoughts of retirement.
"I'm going to play as long as I can," said Leles, who aspires to become a college softball coach. "And when I'm done, I expect I'll be involved in the sport in some way because I can talk softball all day.
"My college coach (Mike Candrea) told me that you need a career where you wake up every day and can't wait to go to work. I love the game. It's always been my passion."