Leslie Malerich still laughs when she talks about her Olympic moment.
As a member of Italy's softball team in the 2004 Athens Olympics, Malerich got a thrill with the lighting of the torch, but remembers something else.
"One of our basketball players elbowed me right in the mouth," Malerich said. "I moved to the back row, because they said it would be easier to get on TV.
"I remember because all I could eat for month after that was yogurt."
Malerich spends half the year in Italy and the other half in Merrillville, where she was an all-state softball pitcher in leading the Pirates to the 1997 state title.
She works for the Ross Twp. Assessor's office and also gives private pitching lessons at Dave Griffin's Baseball & Softball School in Griffith. Malerich lives in Forli, Italy and is a professional softball player for the Forli Softball Club.
With softball no longer an Olympic sport, she said her focus with the Italian National Team is to get ready to succeed in the European and World championships.
"My lifestyle may not be for everybody with the travel and all," Malerich said. "People still ask me when am I going to get a job. Well, professional softball is my career.
"I am lucky because my mom and dad (Denise and Jim) were encouraging when I decided in 2002 to go to Italy and have the chance to become an Olympian."
While that was her goal, she stayed after Italy did not qualify for the 2008 games. She also had a chance to trace back her roots as her paternal grandmother is from Sicily.
"I plan on going there when I get back," she said. "I am so fortunate to have the experiences I have had."
That includes the language barrier.
"When I first got there, a lady gave me something and said, 'Prego,' and I said 'spaghetti sauce?'" Malerich said. "Prego means 'you're welcome' or 'Here you go (this is for you),'"
Or when she was on the field and her teammates were yelling "Dai" (die) which loosely translated, means "Go!" While Malerich has learned Italian, she has also gained respect for other things.
"For people who come to this country, I realize now what a struggle it must be to learn English," she said. "I was one of those people in reverse. I had to learn the native tongue and the thing is, the (Italian) people were so nice and my teammates want to learn English.
"You really appreciate the people who come here and try to learn the language."