Destiny Thornton

Central Cabarrus softball player Destiny Thornton said she was given her name for a reason: to help inspire others.

CONCORD – What’s in a name?

Sometimes, it’s just a label. Sometimes a name’s an important family legacy passed through generations, and sometimes it can be as simple as having been our parents’ favorite movie star or professional athlete.

C. Jemal Horton

Sports editor, C. Jemal Horton

jhorton@independenttribune.com

But sometimes it’s much, much more.

That’s what it was 18 years ago when Ginger Thornton, beset by cervical cancer and only months from believing she’d never give birth again, welcomed a baby girl into the world.

For Ginger’s husband, Tony, it was his first biological child, something he’d always wanted but never thought he’d have. And he was emotionally floating that day.

They named the baby Destiny.

Over the years, for so many reasons, it turned out to be just the right name for this girl and this family.

Destined to make a difference

These days, Destiny Thornton is a key player for a Central Cabarrus High School softball team that’s two wins from winning its first state title since 2005.

The Vikings travel to UNC Greensboro today to face Eastern Alamance in a best-of-3 series, and they’ll have a load of supporters make the trip with them. As usual, among the Central Cabarrus hoard will be Tony and Ginger Thornton, watching Destiny do her thing.

Destiny isn’t the Thorntons’ only child. Ginger had a boy, Robert, and a girl, Tara, from a previous relationship, but Tony adopted them as his own. After Destiny became their miracle baby in late 2000, they had son, Wyatt, three years later.

But Destiny’s in the spotlight right now.

Destiny’s batting .347 with 37 RBIs and three homers, but she’s more than a power-hitting third baseman for the Vikings; many consider her an inspiration.

When players and coaches need to laugh in tense moments, you can usually find Destiny delivering the punchline that has everyone howling and relaxing. When teammates need encouraging words, Destiny’s in their ears.

After the Vikings defeated Marvin Ridge last week to advance to the finals, freshman Lacie Coubal approached Destiny and said, ‘Thank you for pushing me. Thank you for holding me back when I want to yell.’”

Destiny gave Coubal a tight hug.

“Just being there for your girls and making sure everyone’s together is important to me,” Destiny said. “Everyone knows that Central softball is a big family, and it’s just a blessing to be a part of a family like this.”

Around the Central Cabarrus campus, she’s a champion for all sports. During her four years at the school, she could frequently be seen in the student section at football and basketball games, painted face and all, screaming loudly for her classmates.

She doesn’t see any of it as team or school spirit; she sees it as her purpose. And it starts with her name.

“I always feel like it’s why I’m here,” she said. “I know people, especially in high school, who struggle with purpose. I know for a fact that I have a purpose here on Earth, no matter what’s going on. Because my mom wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids, and here I am. I was her destiny.

“For some reason, I was a blessing, and I get happy with making other people happy.”

But in the background of the giggling and dancing and home runs have been a lot of tears. Painful ones that have left scars that many people couldn’t overcome.

But, well, there’s a reason Destiny has the name that she does. And knowing her purpose is what’s helped her come out on top – and provide so much comfort to others along the way.

Weathering the storm

The last time Destiny was on a soccer field was 12 years ago. She was a pretty good soccer player at the time, too, and she’d just scored a goal after taking a pass from Riley Tucker, who’s one of her best friends and a fellow senior on the Central softball team.

Then, as she celebrated, Destiny heard a whistle. And her world changed forever.

“Usually, (the whistle) was normal, because then you would go and just restart with the other team having the ball,” Destiny recalled. “But then I turned around, and everyone was just surrounding my dad.”

On the sideline, Tony Thornton was on the ground. One of the first people to reach him as he fell that day was Trent Tucker, Riley’s father and a current Central assistant coach. Tony was trying to ask Trent for help, but he was struggling to get out the words.

He was having a stroke.

Only 6 years old, Destiny lost it. She was shrieking as she ran toward Tony, but Robert grabbed his little sister and pulled her away to keep her from seeing her father in such distress.

But the image is still burned into her psyche. She remembers the ambulance sirens, the looks of concern on peoples’ faces. She was a daddy’s girl, and she didn’t know if her hero was going to live or die that day.

“That was really hard,” she said. “I would never wish that kind of pain on a 6-year-old – or anyone, really.”

The day Tony had his stroke, the Thorntons were scheduled to have a birthday party for Wyatt, who was turning 3. Instead, they spent the day at the hospital, where Tony stayed for 42 days.

As Ginger stuck by Tony’s side at the hospital, Destiny and Wyatt stayed with a family friend. Robert and Tara, meanwhile, bunked with friends from school. When the children were finally able to reunite with Tony, it was bittersweet.

“I remember my granny took me and Wyatt to see my dad in the hospital for the first time,” Destiny said. “He was able to move around, but he’d lost his ability to speak. We walked in and got off the elevator, and he was sitting in the waiting room. He just cried because he couldn’t speak, so I just went up and hugged him.

“It was hard. I think about it all the time: I could’ve lost my dad.”

The incident also changed the course of Destiny’s life in other ways.

“If my dad didn’t have a stroke, then I’d probably still be playing soccer,” she said. “That was the big thing in our family. Both my older siblings played soccer, both my parents coached it. Robert played soccer here (at Central Cabarrus).

“But once that happened, since I was on the field, that scared me from ever getting back on the soccer field, because I remember what happened, and I would have flashbacks all the time.

“I will not step back on a soccer field. Ever.”

Destiny Thornton and family

Central Cabarrus softball player Destiny Thornton (center) poses with her parents, Ginger (left) and Tony, after a recent game.

Hardcore softball player

It was a long recovery process, but Tony is doing better now. Although he doesn’t have full use of his right arm, he’s actually more productive than most men, including those much younger.

Tony doesn’t have a full-time job, but he drives Wyatt wherever he needs to go, cuts grass for many people in the area, and he even found time to dig a 6-foot hole and put in a flagpole beside the Central Cabarrus dugouts.

During games, he works in the concession stands alongside Central Cabarrus coach Charlie Blackwelder’s wife, Susan.

“My dad likes to do for others,” Destiny bragged. “Our family’s big on helping others; that’s just how we do.

“And he’s excited for this weekend, so it’s like a dream come true.”

Tony was central in getting Destiny’s softball career going. A year after her dad’s stroke, she wrapped up a rec-ball softball career and moved up to the ultra-competitive world of travel ball.

“It felt like (softball is) where I was supposed to be,” Destiny said. “I gave it my all, and then my dad started helping me. He got me hitting coaches and pitching coaches. I worked at it almost every day. Softball became my thing. I loved it.”

And she’s been good at it. Destiny made Central’s varsity squad as a freshman and played her first three seasons as a designated hitter. This year, though, she was determined to be more, and she continued to work. She was rewarded with the starting nod at first base.

“Hitting is my thing -- I’m a power hitter,” Destiny admitted. “But to be in the field and be right near Riley and Jenna (Endsley) and see every play of the game, it’s been really fun. Just being able to throw the ball around the infield after a strikeout is amazing. Just the little things mean so much.”

Blackwelder, however, makes it clear that he didn’t give Destiny the first-base job because she was a senior. On a team this good, starting spots aren’t handed out like postgame snacks in Little League. Destiny earned it, and she responded by committing just two errors this season.

“I just can’t begin to explain how well she’s done at first base,” Blackwelder said. “We’ve worked hard with her technique digging up balls. We’ll put the girls at third base and just have them throw bad balls to her – working on digging up, coming off the bag if you need to, working on ground balls, keeping her head on the ball, using her backhand side.

“She’s played phenomenal for us at first base all year. There’s no doubt when a ball’s thrown, and it’s low, she’s going to dig it up.”

A fantastic finish

Now the Vikings have, at the most, three more games left. After this weekend, Destiny will graduate from Central and prepare to head to Campbell University, where she’ll major in international business and minor in Spanish and ministry.

For the moment, she isn’t slated to play softball for the Camels, but she definitely wants to travel the world and impact it, just like she has in her little circle in Cabarrus County.

But then again, in terms of continuing softball in college, it just wouldn’t make sense to rule anything out with Destiny.

“I’m holding on to (the possibility), so we’re going to see where the Lord takes me and just trust in that,” she said with a smile.

In the meantime, she plans on fighting this weekend against Eastern Alamance, just the way her dad has while recovering from his stroke over the past 12 years.

She imagines what it would be like to stand in UNC Greensboro’s stadium and celebrate with her parents as her Vikings hoist a state championship trophy.

Her journey wouldn’t be complete, because she has a lot more things to accomplish. But for a family that’s had its share of crisis, it would be another triumphant chapter in its testimony. It would be another example of why Destiny goes about her life the way she does.

“Oh, it would be a dream come true,” Destiny said, her voice cracking ever so slightly. “Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to make sure that my life meant something. My name’s Destiny, and I feel like I have that purpose. I always try to find the meaning of everything I do. And to be able to hug both my parents and just sit there and cry -- happy tears -- would just be the greatest thing.”

What’s in a name?

Sometimes it’s everything.

Especially when your name is Destiny Thornton and you’re Tony and Ginger’s baby girl.

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