AUSTIN - Encouraging your kids to follow their passions is something all parents can relate to. One young girl is finding a way to do what she loves while running through many obstacles along the way.
Bella Grace "BG" Parker is a 12-year-old from Austin with dreams like any kid. She hopes to one day play softball in high school, then at UT and eventually in the Olympics. She currently plays for the Texas Dirtbags softball team.
"I just love to go and play and have fun all my friends," BG said. "They are like my sisters."
Her mom Cynthia said she can't remember a time when her daughter wasn't in love with softball.
"She stepped on the field for the first time when she was three years old with a hot pink Barbie bat and hot pink helmet," Cynthia Parker said. "She has stayed on that field ever since."
Something else has also always been there for BG along with softball -- something less enjoyable. BG has grew up having stomach pain and issues every time she ate food.
"She thought it was normal," Cynthia said. "Every time you ate, your stomach hurt. That's how she thought it was supposed to be."
She had an incessant stomach pain that never went away and only worsened with age and with softball.
"I was trying to pay attention to the game and keep my mind off my stomach," BG said. "It was really hard to do."
"She would just eat and be immediately in horrible, horrible pain," Cynthia said. "As a parent, you want to help your child. When you're helpless, t's a hard place to be."
Her mom said it was difficult at times trying to decide if she should take away this sport her daughter loves to try and help her pain.
"There were times on the way to practice, she would be laying down crying in the back seat because she was in so much pain," Cynthia said. "I'd say, 'Let's just turn around, let's go home.' She'd say, 'No, I want to go.'"
This type of desire to keep on playing softball is something Cynthia said she is proud to see from BG.
"I have never wanted anything like that before," Cynthia said.
After many trips to various doctors around the country, some with no answers and others who said she was making the pain up, The Parkers finally discovered the issue -- Crohn's Disease.
"Your body does not absorb the nutrients like it should," Parker said. "We went on a whole gamut of -- you're not allowed to eat these things."
Crohn's Disease is a type of inflammatory bowl disease (IBD) that can affect parts of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract. Signs and symptoms can vary from person to person and can eventually cause weight loss. And for BG, a girl approaching her teenage years and needing to grow, she had to face this challenge of keeping on weight.
"If I didn't put on the weight, I would have had to do a lot of the drugs I really did not want to do," BG said.
There was even the potential of needing a feeding tube, which would all but end her softball career. Her assistant coach, Kyle Hickham, said she wouldn't let that happen.
"She has a heart of gold," Hickham said. "If you have the good attitude, then we know we can coach you. We can coach BG."
Her other coach, Jade Lassetter, played softball at Stony Point High School and echoed this sentiment, explaining she couldn't imagine playing with what BG has for years.
"She's the hardest worker ever," Lassetter said. "I used to say that about myself, but BG puts a new definition to it. It is beyond amazing the drive that she has."
So needing a way to find foods she could eat while also the nutrients it would take to help put on weight, BG's mom found a unexpected solution at the grocery store: peanut butter.
"Most peanut butters had ingredients she couldn't have, but I found a local brand that could actually work," Cynthia said. "So I took it home and I let her try it."
BG not only tried it -- she loved it.
"She would carry a jar of peanut butter in her softball bag, one in the car and one in her backpack for school," Cynthia said. "Every time you would see her in the car, she had a spoon and she was eating it by the jar full."
This Texas peanut butter is called HomePlate Peanut Butter, and it was started and currently runs in Austin. This paste is an all-natural, no-stir peanut butter designed by and for baseball and softball players. The founders are actually former baseball players. Caleigh Bressler with HomePlate and said she received an email from BG's mom, as she explained how thankful she was for her company's product.
"Receiving that message might us take a step back and appreciate it," Bressler said. "We're a startup. Every day is a grind. Some days you feel like you're taking the world by storm and the next day you don't know if you're going under. Hearing about BG was wonderful. We're doing this for BG now, making sure that this brand is a success and stays on the shelves."
This peanut butter is now providing BG with all natural ingredients her stomach can handle and the protein to put weight back on; it is the perfect combination.
"This company has changed our life," Cynthia said. "I know that sounds ridiculous that a peanut butter company did, but it did!"
HomePlate Peanut Butter recently went to one of the Texas Dirtbags' weekend tournaments to bring all the girls their own set of peanut butter to last them through the summer season. As the team prepares for nationals in Dallas this July, Bressler said HomePlate plans to put together more peanut butter packages for BG and her teammates -- hopefully go out to Dallas to cheer them on as well.
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