By Catherine Sheffo
When Maiya Chard-Yaron steps up to the mound, she sees in tunnel vision.
She visualizes her technique, focuses of keeping long and loose and decides on where she wants the ball to go just before she sends it hurtling past the opposing batter and into her teammate’s waiting mitt.
“There’s just something really special when I’m on the pitcher’s mound… it’s just a different dimension of the game,”said Chard-Yaron, the director of educational engagement at the University of Maryland Hillel.
This focus, along with her passion for softball, has taken her around the world, most recently to the 19th Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem where she played for the Israeli National Softball Team over the summer.
Often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics,” the Maccabiah is an international sporting event held in Israel every four years that is open to all qualified Jewish athletes and Israeli athletes of any religion. The 2013 Maccabiah featured more than 9,000 competitors from 78 countries, Israel news site Haaretz reported.
Chard-Yaron has played for the Israeli team since 2003, when the Israeli coach noticed her dual-citizenship and offered her a position on the team as a pitcher and in the outfield.
She first started playing in a community league when she was 8 years old and moved up to competitive travel leagues at age 12.
She competed regularly at European Championships and Maccabiahs over the summers while also earning four varsity letters at Columbia University during the academic year. In 2006 she was named First Team All-Ivy League and to the All-Academic All-Ivy list.
“I was in school and I’d finish my season, then go home for a few weeks then go to Israel,” she said of her college years.
Now, Chard-Yaron uses vacation time over the summer to be able to play overseas.
The transition from college to full-time employment made continuing her softball career difficult at first. “I was training on my own, I’d pitch in the morning before work,” she said.
While she grew up in San Diego with “a softball field on every corner,” much of her family lives in Tel Aviv and Herzliya, Israel, where the sport is less common.
Softball was added to the games in 2005, but it’s considered a relatively new addition to the Maccabiah. This year’s Maccabiah was the first to be played on a brand new field specifically for softball, signifying its growing popularity in Israel.
This year’s Maccabiah was Chard-Yaron’s third, but the experience is just as special each time she plays.
“The Maccabiah is magical,” she said, “It’s awesome to be doing something Jewish and connected to the sport I love.”
The team’s run this year was not its best, ending with a loss to the Canadian national team, however, for Chard-Yaron, the games are more about sharing the sport she’s passionate about.
The best part of participating in the games is “meeting people that love your sport from all over the world,” she said.
When asked about her favorite moment from the games, she didn’t answer right away. Instead of reminiscing about a hard-fought win or perfect pitch, she talked about getting to work with young Israeli pitchers who had come to watch the team warm up.
While her future at the games is as uncertain as any athlete’s, she wants to remain involved with the Israeli national team far into the future.
“I feel very fortunate,” she said, “It’s been a really amazing experience.”