A Brazilian's Dream

Youth Comes Full Circle for Senior Duo

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) - UCF senior Manami Calixto always dreamt about playing for her country, but she had no idea the doors that it would open.
The Curitiba, Brazil, native grew up hearing countless stories from her mother about playing on the Brazilian National Softball Team. Lana Mara Takii Calixto was a shortstop for Brazil from 1980-91.
"I wanted to be like my mom," Calixto said. "She is obsessed with softball and always talks about the time she spent with the national team."

She followed in her mother's footsteps and, through hard work and determination, earned a spot on the 2010 Brazilian Youth National Team at that age of 14. One of the youngest members on that squad, Calixto played a vital role at the 16U Youth World Cup later that year in Plant City, Fla.

"It was a full count with a runner at third and two outs," Calixto recalled of the gold medal game. "I threw a rise ball. She swung so hard and struck out. I turned around and everyone was jumping and running towards the dugout; throwing their gloves in the air. It was the best feeling ever."
It didn't take long for Calixto to call her mother.
"My mom was really happy and excited for me," Calixto said. "She was really happy and proud that my dream was coming true."
Calixto's parents have always supported and aided her in achieving her goals, but that first trip to the United States was an eye-opening experience.
"I did not speak any English at all," Calixto said. "It was extremely difficult. I relied on Google Translator to communicate with others."
She continued coming to the U.S. during the next three summers to compete in travel ball tournaments, which made her focus on learning the English language and American culture. Calixto also appeared with Brazil at international softball tournaments in Venezuela, Peru, Colombia and Canada.
Through the help of her travel ball coach, Gina De Aguero, she earned a scholarship to Miami-Dade State College. The Sharks had found success with Brazilian players, who helped the program claim the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National Championship.
"When I came to college, I was 17 years old and ready to leave home and start doing things on my own," Calixto said. "I was really excited, but there was also a lot of pressure because of the group that led the team to the national title."
She leaned on current and former Miami-Dade players to help her with the transition. Each Miami-Dade class from 2009-16 had two Brazilians.
"Their familiarity with America and the program helped me," Calixto said. "The sophomores were always there for me when I got there. I was more comfortable talking with them and knew them, because they played with me in Brazil."
The two-time NJCAA All-American led the Sharks back to the NJCAA National Softball Championship for the first time since 2010, helping them finish fifth. She was later tabbed as the 2015 NJCAA Pitcher of the Year.
"She took that team and put them on her back," UCF head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said. "She had that experience from the national team and knew what it was like to play against top-level competition. I was impressed with the competitiveness that she brought to the circle."
When Calixto stepped foot on the UCF campus in the fall of 2015, she was truly appreciative of everything provided to the student-athletes.
"At UCF, they provide me with the tools to be successful," Calixto said. "Even the little things, all the stuff that is available [to student-athletes]. Everyone is really supportive here in preparing me for a career."
It was a stark contrast to how she grew up in Brazil, where she had to work for every little thing to play the sport she loves.
"She realizes how special it is to play for a Division I team in college," Gillispie said. "Her dream was being able to do that. She is a kid that has fought for everything she has gotten and truly appreciates what she has."
Calixto is set to graduate in May with an interdisciplinary studies degree and with the hope of starting a business career in the United States.

Next Up
UCF plays its final home series against UConn, starting with a 5:30 p.m. contest on Friday. The Knights will recognize their four seniors, Manami CalixtoLinnea GoodmanWillow Kalinen and Brittany Solis, following their final game at the UCF Softball Complex on Aril 30 at noon.

For more information about individual game tickets that start at $7, click here.
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