Andrews: 'When I'm on the field, I think nothing is out of reach'

A.J. Andrews: My muscles are what makes me, me (1:31)

A.J. Andrews has always had a penchant for spectacular diving catches in the outfield, and last year she became the first female Gold Glove recipient. Along the way, she had to learn to appreciate her athletic physique. (1:31)

This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2017, on newsstands on July 7. Subscribe today!

It's fitting that softball phenom A.J. Andrews became the first woman to win a Gold Glove, in August 2016. The outfielder for National Pro Fastpitch's Akron Racers has always been at the forefront of her sport, known for acrobatic catches that she's been honing since her youth and a fearlessness that no obstacle -- or broken catching hand -- can dampen. Here's Andrews on how she got here, and her (big) goals for the future, in her own words:

I'm a really gritty player. I'm one of those players that dives into the mud. If I don't get dirty during a game, I don't feel like I've done my job. But I also really like looking fabulous; I wear makeup during games. But I'm going to go all out for a ball, whether it makes me look silly or whether I get my face stuck in the mud and come out looking crazy. I think there are some plays I've done where it looked like I probably broke my neck. I'll get up, put my bow back on, fix my hair and I'm ready to go again.

This past season, I dove for a ball and I actually broke my hand. My glove got caught in the grass and I ended up landing on top of my hand and busted two or three bones. It was my left hand, my catching hand. It was kind of a psychological thing for me. I didn't tell anybody about it and I still played the whole season -- I was trying to catch balls, and it was literally painful every time the ball landed in my glove. Sometimes I had to turn around and wipe the tears away because it hurt so bad. I'd wipe them really quick and turn around so no one could see me and keep going.

I tried everything to ease the pain. I tried putting some padding on my hand and wrapping it with tape, but then it was hard to fit into my glove. It didn't make me feel any better, it just made it feel real awkward. So literally at the end of the season, I was just playing with the broken hand. There wasn't anything I could do for it.

I almost had a fear of diving. That was the most disappointing thing for me because that's what I always loved to do. And so for me to be nervous to make a dive -- something I would never second-guess in my life -- it was very disappointing. Finally I decided that I was just going to ignore the pain.

When I made one of those really great catches that people have seen, someone asked me, "Well, what were you thinking?" I just wanted to be me again. I wanted to just be the player that dove all the time. When I caught that ball is when I really felt like I was back.

People often think of a softball player as someone who is stocky, very broad, with a really rough exterior. That's not the case at all. Men are only judged on their performance, you know? Or are judged positively on how big they actually are. Women are judged on how big they are in a negative fashion. With softball players, we all come in different shapes and sizes, heights, weights -- there's no direct look for a softball player.

I work really hard on being fast, so I think my legs show that I look like a sprinter. My arms are very defined and solid, and that just goes to show the hard work I've put in to hit long balls. My stomach is toned from all the running and diving and all the agilities that I do to get to balls fast and make those awesome diving catches that I've been able to make in my life.

I've always had really cut arms, but I would wear long sleeves because I was self-conscious. At a young age, someone said something like, "Oh, your arms are so big." And I never really knew what was wrong with that, but that stuck with me. So I would lift, but I wouldn't lift too much. And then as I got older I knew that I needed to get bigger and faster and stronger in order for me to be successful and excel in my sport. I really began to embrace the fact that my muscles are beautiful and they make me who I am and they make me the athlete I am.

I like that my body is just very toned. I think I have a cute butt, honestly. I'm one of those people that are naturally cut. Everybody sees me and they just know that I'm an athlete. I like getting those results and seeing the definition come through even more.

People don't really understand that softball is a much faster game than baseball. We have to be stronger and faster in order to make those plays. When you really break down softball compared to baseball, it's actually the harder sport. I know they did a Sport Science edition on it, how the distances are shorter. Reaction times need to be faster. There are a lot of different complexities in softball that people don't realize.

When the IOC removed softball from the Olympics, I really didn't understand that at all, because you have all these other sports like table tennis in the Olympics, and softball isn't? It was a real dig, and it kind of made us realize we aren't getting as far as we thought we were. Now they're putting softball back in the Olympics for 2020, and that's something I aspire to compete in. I want softball to be a sport that people are excited to watch and rally behind.

Before, my goal was winning a Gold Glove award; now I want to see women being paid equal to men. I think right now that's deemed impossible, and that's something I've really had my eyes on achieving. ... I really want softball to be equal to baseball and for people to not look at softball as a secondary sport to baseball, even referring to softball as baseball. People talk to me -- and I know they don't mean any disrespect -- but it's, "Oh, you play baseball?" and I always politely correct them: "No, I play softball."

I really want women to be looked at as equal to men and to have equal pay. It's just unfair that we're working just as hard as them -- if not twice as hard -- and don't get the same level of respect. Then again, you see Serena Williams, who is a trailblazer for women in sports, and she's still not getting paid like a man might get paid. That's one of those things that I think is looked at as impossible, and I would love more than anything to make it possible.

I'm one of those people that when I sleep, I feel like I'm missing out on getting better. I train so hard that I even fight to stay up. I'll never forget telling my dad when I was younger, "I'm going to get a D1 scholarship," and he told me, "All right, then you better work hard and know that there's always someone out there working harder than you." That has stuck with me. I fight to get up those early mornings where I don't feel like getting up at 5 a.m. to go lift, or to stay out late in the cages to keep hitting more even though I'm tired. I'm fighting all of that just so I can get 1 percent better that day, because I don't want anyone to be better than me.

When I'm on the field, I literally think nothing is out of reach. I believe in my head that I can get any ball. So if you hit a popup right there in front of the catcher, if I got a good enough start and the ball was high enough, I believe I can catch that -- even though I'm running however many feet to catch that ball from the outfield. I think I can do it. I believe that if I can get anywhere near that ball, it will be caught.

For more Body interviews: AJ Andrews | Javier Baez | Julian Edelman | Ezekiel Elliott | Kirstie Ennis | Julie and Zach Ertz | Malakai Fekitoa | Gus Kenworthy | Nneka Ogwumike | Isaiah Thomas | Joe Thornton and Brent Burns | US Women's National Hockey Team | Ashley Wagner | Michelle Waterson | Novlene Williams-Mills | Caroline Wozniacki