There are often stories shared about how people go that extra mile for others.
Lo and behold, this story is about a dandy of an adventure that you don’t always hear about - and this one that has endured for years.
Now a prodigy of the Toronto District School Board, and who has become one of the elite softball players to suit up for Canada in international competitions, Joey Lye knows all about the positive impact one can get from a determined and extraordinary individual.
Lye, who is living her aspiration of playing softball for Canada at the Tokyo Olympic Games, knows all too well about hopes, dreams and personal goals. She also knows about the positive vibes she has been getting, and for many years, from her former Grade 3 teacher.
Louise Foster-Martin, now retired, taught Lye at Scarborough’s Bridlewood Public School.
Catching up by phone with Lye in Japan and talking about the excitement that goes with the world’s top athletes gathering in one city, she spoke about the gift that came from “Mrs. F-M.”
It was almost 30 years ago that this teacher had her students prepare letters to themselves highlighting what they projected would happen when they got older.
The letters, addressed to their homes at the time, were sealed, stored and it was Foster-Martin who mailed them almost 10 years later - after the students had graduated from secondary school.
For Lye, a shy kid back then, she would toughen up and go on to achieve academic honors as well as delve into the world of sport. As a multi-sport athlete, Lye would easily qualify for the Birchmount Exceptional Athlete Program (BEAP) – a curriculum schedule that was designed for students who visualize a desire to improve athletically and academically.
“I played house league softball and, like most kids, had dreams of being a professional (athlete) and doing really well one day,” recalled Lye, somewhat apprehensive and bashful as an elementary school student. “Along the way, there were times that went well for me - and moments when they didn’t.
“It really is beyond something special when you have a supporter like her. So much encouragement, dedication and a desire to see you do well. She was responsible for me taking softball to the next level and I know that she had a huge part in convincing me to work hard, never give up and aim for the top.”
For many, wearing the colors of Canada, being chosen to the National team, and playing in the world spectacle called the Olympics has the makings of fame and notoriety.
While Lye kept repeating how Foster-Martin was “a great teacher” and she still has “a ton of great memories”, the Olympic infielder is overwhelmed and impressed by the constant reminders she gets from her.
Lye lives in Lewisburg, a two-and one-half hour drive northwest of Philadelphia. It’s also the home of Bucknell University, one of the top liberal arts universities in the United States. It’s also where Lye has coached the women’s softball team.
That is, until recently, when she resigned to focus on the Olympics and play for Canada in a sport that had been missing from the international competition since 2008. It’s also not scheduled for the 2024 Games in Paris.
More about that after we hear from a woman who could very well be Lye’s No. 1 fan.
“I am so proud of her and all the accomplishments,” said Foster-Martin, who lives in Brampton. “She was this quiet young girl (in Grade 3), curious and eager to learn. Teachers can spot things in students and there was something special about her. I knew, back then, that she was good
at softball and so I had gone to some of her games.”
Foster-Martin had switched to teach at Melody Village Junior School in Etobicoke when, one day, she was called to the office to receive a bouquet of flowers. It had been sent by Lye.
“The last time I saw her was in 2015 at the Pan Am Games, the year Canada won the gold medal. I consider it an honour and privilege to have taught a student, who became an Olympian. Not many teachers get that chance.”
Foster-Martin, known for doing acts of kindness, was aware that Lye enjoyed pancakes. There was nothing better than Canadian maple syrup. One day, as a reminder of her homeland, Foster-Martin sent Lye a container of the famous liquid topping. Other reminders, from flags to baseball shirts, have also been sent by the former teacher.
Fred Lewis also had an impact in the softball life of Lye.
He was an assistant coach with the Ajax Raiders, a rep team. He, too, saw potential in Lye. But Lye, recalling that she was 11 years old at the time, had tinkered with quitting the Durham Region team. She claimed the fun was no longer there and was not considered to be among the better players on the club’s first squad.
Times were different. Things changed. Discussions occurred. Lye was inspired and determined to not give up, to work hard and prove others wrong. As she looked back, that may well have been one of the key moments in her softball career.
Lye is also proof that you don’t have to be a superstar athlete, with a lucrative contract, to have your own Topps baseball card. It’s also one that she autographed for her favorite teacher.
While there is no shortage of accomplishments in Lye’s resume, winning four medals as a member of Canadian softball teams that reached the podium at World championships, she also claimed jewellery at a pair of Pan Am Games and two Canadian championships. Lye also has an impressive 11-year coaching career at four different Colleges.
When the opportunity came for Lye to help Canada earn a spot at the Tokyo Olympics, nothing could hold her back. In 2019, Lye helped Canada qualify for the 2020 Games, an event delayed a year because of the pandemic. She had even stepped down from a coaching job.
With softball added to the Olympics for the first time since 2008, and not on the schedule for the 2024 Olympics in France, Lye – and others – knew this would likely be her last time at the big event.
“I often look back at those earlier years, they were overwhelming in many ways,” said Lye. “My teachers supported me, and it was Birchmount Park that may have been the turning point, when I really pushed myself. And now, the Olympics, it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.”
George Kourtis remembers teaching Lye at Birchmount Park.
“She was what we referred to as a quiet leader, always listened and smiled,” said Kourtis, now Program Coordinator for Health and Physical Education with the Toronto District School Board.
“I always remember her as being laser focussed, having strong leadership skills and very coachable. It was those qualities that would help her excel. She’s the type of person you would recruit because she would make people feel good, was personable and had a superb work ethic.”
By: David Grossman - July, 2021