health & sports
Out on the Field
Picking up the pieces
Published Thursday, 03-Apr-2008 in issue 1058
On Sunday, March 30, Shirlee Linke got to play softball, as America’s Finest City Softball League (AFCSL) opened its 27th season.
It was a return to normalcy, and to the people who helped her pick up the pieces after her entire life was devastated. October’s wildfires burned Linke’s home of 21 years and destroyed most of her belongings.
Like most back-country evacuees, Linke didn’t have a lot of time to pack. She shared the home with four dogs, four cats and a married couple, her longtime friends Tim and Sally, who owned the home and ran a cabinetry business out of the garage.
During the evacuation, Linke was mostly concerned about the pets and her friends’ business computer and important papers, so she loaded what she could into her truck.
Linke’s actions that day, caring not for herself, instead mindful of the helpless animals and her friends’ business items, is consistent with who the woman is, which is immediately evident just by asking around.
I didn’t have to look far to find someone who would talk about Shirlee Linke’s giving nature or what she means to San Diego’s GLBT sports community.
Stacey Hayashi, AFCSL co-commissioner, and newly appointed commissioner of the national gay women’s softball league, ASANA, was quick to testify.
“The stuff she does for us is amazing,” Hayashi said. “Shirlee was a key component for us when San Diego hosted the gay softball World Series. She did stuff for us that wouldn’t have been done otherwise.”
Describing her friend as a kind of “super volunteer,” Hayashi said that Linke doesn’t just limit her activities to San Diego.
As an example, last year, when the gay softball World Series was held in Phoenix, Hayashi said, “Shirlee did so much work you would have thought she was on the host city committee!”
“All I did was pitch in when they needed help,” Linke says, embarrassed by the effusive praise.
“She’s always willing to help,” Hayashi countered, “no matter what. It’s just her kind heart. Even after the tragedy, she was out there saying ‘What can I do for you?’ That’s just the way her heart is.”
Her volunteer spirit aside, Linke was devastated after the fires.
In the days after, she sought refuge with Dani Goodlett, a close friend and fellow softball player, who opened her home to Linke.
“I can’t thank Dani enough for everything she did for me,” Linke said. “She washed my clothes because they all smelled like smoke. She fed me. She supported me emotionally.”
Linke doesn’t remember exactly how long she stayed with Goodlett, just that it represented a paradigm shift for her. Now “Linke the giver” had to be on the receiving end of some love and affection. As it turns out, there were plenty of people eager to give it.
Goodlett is a longtime and respected member of the AFCSL board and is also the assistant commissioner of the national board of ASANA. As a result, she has an impressive list of contacts, many of whom know and have been helped by Linke in one way or another.
In an e-mail to her contact list, Goodlett gently explained Linke’s situation, and asked for simple and practical donations. It was a heartfelt note that Linke would later learn went nationwide.
Donations began pouring in. Her softball mates even threw her a fund-raiser at Urban Mo’s in early November.
“I was completely blown away by it,” she said. “In fact, Dani, knowing that I would be too overwhelmed, gave me stuff in small amounts. She would give me a handful of stuff every day, and every day I cried.
“One woman wrote a check for $10 and mailed it to Dani.” Linke said a letter accompanied the check and in it the donor wrote that she wished it could have been more, but that was all she could afford. “That was so precious to me, that this woman could only afford $10, and she thought to give it to me.”
Fighting back tears, Linke said, “That really touched me.”
When she was ready, emotionally and physically, Linke was able to return to work on Halloween. She credits her company for being “incredibly supportive” during her crisis.
“I work for the best company in the world,” she said. Showing its support, Linke’s job helped with temporary housing and a small clothing allowance. Her co-workers were also supportive, particularly longtime friend Jim Costello, incidentally another softballer.
“Jim would take care of me during the day,” she said of her co-worker and friend, “and Dani would take care of me at night.”
Now, Linke is safely reunited with her “family” as she calls them, her longtime roommates Tim and Sally, and their pets. While they wait to rebuild in Ramona, they’re renting a home in Poway, vacated by some other softball friends who moved into another home they recently purchased.
You don’t have to look far to find a pattern here, and Linke is the first to point it out.
“Softball isn’t just softball,” Linke said. “It’s a community out there. It’s not just about playing ball. It’s there to help and support each other.”
Linke ought to know. She’s supported so many for so long, it was only a matter of time before it came full circle.