Gophers, water are a bad mix

Mark Heller

There are those who thrive on having fun in the face of danger, and then there’s Minnesota softball player Angel Braden.
She surfs, but doesn’t know how to swim.
She won’t even get her face wet if she doesn’t have to.
Braden, a sophomore who arrived in Minnesota from Chino, Calif., is admired on the team because of her unique “water ability,” especially from those who have tried catching the waves.
“I tried surfing once and I hit my head on the bottom of the ocean,” said teammate Michelle Harrison, who also resides in southern California. “I’ll never do it again. I’ve been too chicken to try it ever since.
“Angel’s weird like that.”
Braden has been battling a fear of water for most of her life. No one seems to know where this fear originated, and it doesn’t begin with surfing.
“If I’m in a pool, I won’t swim underwater,” Braden said. “I’m scared to dunk my head underwater. Even in the shower, I hate having the water run down my face. I’ll wash my face when I get out of the shower.”
The Bradens originally lived in Indiana until Angel was eight. During those years, Braden went to the family cabin on a lake nearly every weekend. Angel would spend most of the time in the lake, and had her mother Lynn — who was a competitive water skier around local lakes in Indiana — as proof that going underwater could be harmless.
But that had little effect on Angel’s hydrophobia.
“When we went to the lake, she would doggy paddle around and made sure she never went under water,” Lynn said. “She could have been a great skier, but when she got up, she’d let go after 10 feet because she was afraid to fall and go under in deep water, and not come back up.”
Angel would always “swim” around the lakes, but was never pushed to take swimming lessons.
When the Braden’s moved to California in 1987, Angel saw her cousins and brother surf. She was led to the sport by her brother at age 15.
“He kind of pushed me into it and said that it wasn’t as bad as it looked,” she said. “So I tried it and I was freaking out when I went under. But it was kind of fun when you get up.”
Braden would surf four or five times a year, but she hasn’t gone back to California the past two summers. Braden kept surfing in spite of her fear because she knew she would come back up with a life jacket.
But there are no life jackets in swimming pools.
“Just the other day at a hotel, I could not go underwater,” Braden said. “I just had to tip my hair back to get my hair wet.
“I had someone stand real close to me and I tried to swim underwater and I couldn’t do it.”
According to Lynn, Angel also has a hard time being in a boat. Angel will wear a life jacket no matter what, and she’ll never let go of the rails on the side of the boat.
Braden’s fear of the underwater world is left on the deck, however, when it comes to a challenge this weekend’s Big Ten tournament in Ann Arbor.
An eye injury forced Braden out of action for five weeks early in the season. She has come back to lead the team with a .329 average in conference games.
For someone afraid of getting their face wet, trying to hit a 60 mph softball coming at her from 40 feet is “nothing,” she said.