By Rick Assad
At some point, every athlete sees their career come to a conclusion. For most it ends after high school.
For a handful it happens after college, and for a select few it’s over at the professional level.
In the case of Caitlyn Brooks, it was time to hang up her cleats, glove and bat after an outstanding four-year softball career at the University of Notre Dame where she led the Atlantic Coast Conference in five offensive categories, including home runs, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and total bases as a senior in 2019, and for her effort was named the ACC Player of the Year.
A highly-decorated and a once-in-a-generation pitcher at Burbank High, Brooks is now employed at MGA Entertainment which manufactures children’s toys and entertainment products.
Brooks does media and marketing for the Chatsworth-based company that was founded in 1979 and has revenues of $9.15 billion this year.
What was the transition from athlete to worker like for Brooks?
“I think anytime you start a new chapter in your life it can be scary and intimidating, and I definitely felt that initially, but I also know that I can handle challenges and stress well, so I was up for the challenge, and that has helped me strive for success within my job,” she said. “I expect more from myself everyday, and it helps me do my job better as I continue.”
Being an exceptional athlete has made the move to the workplace smooth for Brooks.
“It definitely has given me the drive to pursue the field and career that I want to be in,” she said. “It also helps me understand that you need to work and continue to work to better yourself and the company.”
After being hired by a different company early this year, Brooks was furloughed because of the coronavirus.
“I was actually laid off at the beginning of March, so COVID kind of attested to that, but it gave me my first summer off from everything [like school and softball] and gave me a great opportunity to be with my family and figure out what I wanted to do next,” she noted. “This new job that I got in September is really a great fit, and it’s challenging me and teaching me so much everyday.”
Being productive makes this job worthwhile for Brooks. “It is so cool to see your work being used in real life and seeing toys that you loved being enjoyed by the future leaders of our world,” she said.
Quiet and self assured, Brooks doesn’t stand in the background.
“I definitely consider myself a leader, however the context is different,” she pointed out. “When I was laid off I was pushing myself to better my resume, and apply to jobs out of my comfort zone, and also go to tons of virtual interviews, which pushed me to be better and I think that is me being a leader in my life and pushing myself to be better and challenge myself to go out of my comfort zone in order to gain experience and knowledge for the next application or even job interview.”
Being at South Bend, Indiana, as part of the Fighting Irish women’s softball team was extremely helpful in numerous ways.
“I was fortunate to have the support from my coaches and family to pursue the degree that I enjoyed the most without pressure of what someone else thinks,” Brooks said. “I loved all of my classes, so it was a lot easier to do well when you’re enjoying what you’re doing. The same goes for on the field. My coaches were incredible people and pushed us in a way that made us want to work harder for ourselves and our teammates. The environment at Notre Dame was so conducive to my success because I had incredible people in my corner continuously challenging and pushing me to get better on and off the field.”
The day Brooks graduated from Notre Dame has formed an indelible memory and is something she will always cherish.
“It was one day that you don’t forget. My graduation was special because it was just our family and team and staff,” she said. “So I was able to speak in front of everyone that helped me through the experience. I was proud of myself as much as they were all proud of me and that is so special.”
When there are road blocks, Brooks finds a way to get past them.
“I try to think about it from every angle and go for it,” she said. “You can always adjust and learn from your mistakes, and you should try your best to learn from it. Move forward and not repeat past mistakes.”
Mike Delaney knows Brooks well after being her high school coach at Burbank for four years.
“First and foremost she has a competitive streak. It carries over into her daily life. If she’s going to do something, she’ll want to be the best at it,” he said. “She understands the significance and importance of her degree from Notre Dame. The alumni association is huge and well connected throughout the country. Her opportunities are endless if she continues to network through alumni.”
Delaney added: “More importantly she is a good person. She has remained grounded and accountable despite the success she had on the softball field,” he said. “I look forward to seeing what she accomplishes off the field.”
Being on the Notre Dame softball team can be stressful, because winning and doing well are paramount, but it wasn’t for Brooks.
“I think that once given the opportunity, you need to give it your all, and ask for constructive criticism so you are able to perform better,” she said. “Those types of traits have been imbedded in me throughout my entire life – that now I am able to utilize that skillset and fall back on my training – my entire athletic career.”
Brooks does miss the game, but in an entirely different way. “The hardest part is not the sport for me,” she said. “It is definitely the people that surrounded me everyday. I miss those relationships and the atmosphere that I was part of more than actually playing the sport.”
Working with others in a team environment and everyone pulling in the same direction has paid dividends for Brooks.
“My coach [Deanna Gumpf] always talked about falling back on our training. I think I apply that to everything I do in life,” she said. “How to speak to people, how to react when times get really tough, how to breathe and be mindful. We train in our sport and those characteristics are translated across everything we do after.”
For some, Brooks is a role model and as such offered some insightful advice for those who might want to follow her trail.
“I think the best thing you can do is keep pushing yourself. By that I mean push yourself to try out for the bigger and harder club team,” she said. “And contact coaches and come prepared for every phone call and opportunity in your sport. If you don’t push yourself you will never know how far you can go.”