Sarah Costlow has a motto that consists of two words: “Stay strong.” The George Washington sophomore pitcher has them printed on the back of her high school letter jacket, and on a bracelet she wears regularly.
At first glance, those words seem to be a simple dose of motivation through the daily grind of school and athletics. But for Costlow, they represent a source of comfort, a beacon to guide her through the dark moments of a loss more painful than any defeat she could ever suffer on a softball field.
On Aug. 2, 2011, Costlow, then 15, lost her father, Mike after a 13-month battle with cancer. By the time doctors discovered it, Mike was already in the late stages of the disease.
“I didn’t know how serious it was until the end,” said Costlow, a native of Riverside, Calif. “My mom was very positive. She believed the more we talked about it, in the chance he had.”
Mike’s passing came during Premier Nationals, where Sarah was pitching for OC Batbusters in the 14U Division.
“I was pitching a game, throwing a no-hitter,” she said. “I got pulled out of my game, and (the coach) was like, ‘You need to go to the hospital.’ I was really confused. So I drove to the hospital, and got to say goodbye and talk to my dad.”
Just two days after Mike’s death, Costlow was back pitching for the Batbusters. “We actually won nationals that year,” she said. “That was really cool.”
In the years following her father’s passing, Costlow has done her best to maintain the same optimism demonstrated by her mom, Dianne. When things get tough on the softball field or in school, the “Stay Strong” motto reminds her to keep pushing when life throws her a curve.
As a freshman, Costlow set a school record for victories in a season (16), and made 37 appearances with 190.2 innings pitched, both team highs for a freshman. She was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team, and was one of 75 GW student athletes to earn a 4.0 GPA in the classroom.
Colonials head coach Stacey Schramm admitted Costlow was “thrown to the wolves” in her first year, but believes she became a better pitcher as a result.
“She has matured so much in just one year,” Schramm said. “This year, she’s just a different pitcher. She’s more relaxed, she understands the mental side of (the game). She understands to breathe, and really take one pitch at a time and not get overwhelmed by the moment.”
It took only one semester of her freshman year for Sarah to realize how important organizational skills were in balancing studies and softball. While most students her age use smartphones to keep track of their calendar, Costlow prefers a more low-tech approach.
“(I use) a written planner, where I can highlight, where I can use pretty colors, and make it my own,” the systems engineering major said with a chuckle.
This season, the Colonials are 9-8 as of March 15. In nine starts, Sarah is 5-4 with a 2.30 ERA. But Schramm believes her competitive spirit and winning personality make her as valuable an asset as her statistics.
“On the mound, she’s very competitive,” Schramm said. “But she enjoys life, she enjoys playing. She doesn’t take anything for granted.”
Costlow’s teammates already regard her as a leader. She was nominated as a member of the softball program’s Leadership Council, an honor usually reserved for upperclassmen. The council is divided into four groups, with a leader assigned to each. Schramm encourages the council to come up with competitions for best grade point average and other fun activities to keep her players motivated throughout the season.
This summer, Costlow will have the opportunity to serve as an intern for the Navy. If she could pass along any wisdom to someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, she would encourage them to cherish the moments they shared, rather than focusing on the loss itself.
“Stay positive, even though it sounds impossible,” she said. “When I started looking at it, I became thankful for the dad I had for the time I had him. Some people don’t even get the luxury to have wonderful parents for as long as I did. (Enjoy) every single day, and don’t take it for granted.”
Sound advice, as are the two small but powerful words on her bracelet and the back of her high school letter jacket: “Stay Strong.”