It's easy to take our opportunities in life for granted. For freshman outfielder Maris Boelens, she keeps her opportunities in the forefront of her mind because had things worked out differently, she would have never had them.
Boelens spent the first days of her life in an orphanage in Russia before she and her brother were adopted by their parents and moved to Illinois. Being adopted opened new doors leading to a more promising life. Boelens said that children who are not adopted in Russia have few opportunities at a better life. In general, if children are not adopted by the time they turn 14, they are kicked out of the orphanage and can end up in the military, homeless, or worse.
"In Russia we had nothing," she said. "Just to think that my life could be so different today almost scares me. I'm really grateful that my parents came and got me. Every day is a different feeling. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about how different life could be."
Boelens and her brother were adopted into a big family in Aledo. She is one of four siblings and is the only girl. Boelens' parents are divorced, but she said both parents, as well as her step-mother, are all a huge part of her life.
Around the time that Boelens was six, she started playing softball and was on a travel ball team from the time she was eight.
"When I was a kid, my dad and I would play catch. When you grow up around boys, you play a lot of sports, so we played a lot of baseball," she said. "I fell in love with the game. For me, it took my mind off of a lot of things and was fun. I went to hitting and pitching practices. I started slap hitting when I was 10. It's been a part of my daily routine since I was a kid."
At Alleman High School, Boelens was a leader for the Pioneers. She posted an average above .400 for three-straight seasons and hit .537 as a senior with a home run, eight doubles and 10 RBI and five steals in 22 games according to Maxpreps.com.
Her success as a hitter caught the eye of Saluki associate head coach Jen Sewell and earned her an invite to one of the Salukis' camps.
"In my junior year, Kerri Blaylock contacted me. Before that, I honestly had no idea about SIU," she said. "I loved the camp that I came to. I loved the family feel of the team and I love the coaches. Sometimes coaches can be so negative, but Kerri is the opposite. She is so calm about everything. She's almost like a mother figure. I feel like I can talk to her about anything. She cares about her players and that's what made me come here."
Family is important to Boelens. Be it her adopted family at home in Aledo or her new Saluki family in Carbondale, she has a great support net and is thankful for it.
"In every stage of my life I've had some sort of different family through softball, but I think my Saluki family is one of the most important ones to me," Boelens said. "Playing college softball have been a dream of mine ever since I was little. I talked with my dad about it forever and now it's a reality. This group and this team is so family-based. We are always together. I look up to them. The coaches are like motherly figures. They always want to help us no matter what. It's like my family at home and it makes it easier to be away from home."