|Condition: Stroke||Athletic Level: NCAA DI Basketball|
Basketball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started playing basketball when I was eight years old and I immediately loved the competitiveness of the sport. My competitiveness drove me to want to be the best, and eventually, it led to a desire to play at the Division One level, and to that, I was blessed to receive multiple scholarship offers throughout my high school career. I was so excited to continue in college; when I decided to commit to Saint Joseph’s University, I knew that the program was the best fit and I could not wait to get on campus.
As a freshman, you must participate in six weeks of summer session to get acclimated academically and begin workouts with the team. Despite the difficulty of the new workouts and my academic schedule, I left the summer session feeling prepared and excited for the fall semester.
After a short break from summer session, I headed back to campus to move into my dorm room. This day began like any other day, but what would eventually happen on that day, August 23rd, 2014, was anything but normal. As I was putting away my clothes, my left knee gave out, and I decided to sit on my bed to stabilize myself. Within seconds, I collapsed onto the floor. I looked up at my mom and she could see the whole left side of my face had dropped and as I looked up, I realized I couldn’t move my whole left side. Out of the corner of my mouth I asked my mom, “What’s happening?”
She responded immediately, “I think you’re having a stroke.” She was right.
At 17 years, old, in my college dorm room I suffered an acute ischemic stroke. My whole left side of my body was paralyzed. Sitting in the hospital as doctors informed me what was happening, I was clueless. First as to what a stroke was and secondly to what I was about to face in my recovery. I was a healthy and active 17-year-old. I couldn’t fathom why this had happened. In the first week in the hospital I asked myself, ‘why me?’ I went from a Division One athlete to being unable to go to the bathroom on my own and perform other basic life necessities.
Early in the recovery process, basketball was not on the top of my goal sheet. I had to focus on getting my life back before I focused on the game. Playing division one basketball again was the final goal on my list. I knew it would be the last challenge I had to face despite knowing that doctors and others questioned if it was even possible. One doctor even told me I would never play again. However, the motivation to get back on the court was what got me through the early stages of my recovery. When dealing with my injury, I couldn’t focus on what could or should have been. Every day, I had to set small goals, embrace, and cherish the little victories along the way. The athletic mentality of never giving up and setting goals helped me in my recovery.
As athletes, we are trained to not accept failure. We experience it of course, but trust me there were many failures along the way in my recovery. However, we do not accept it. We continue to fight to reach our goals. During the recovery process, it helped me most to focus on these goals. It also helped to take time to appreciate when the goals were accomplished. Believe it or not, someone out there is going through something similar, maybe even worse. Recognizing that I was not alone, and that my accomplishments should be celebrated helped my success.
During the hardest moments, like going out in public with a cane, or sitting on the bench while my teammates played, I learned a lot about myself and my journey. I learned that getting through a tough injury is difficult physically and MENTALLY. The physical is the obvious fix, but mentally it is just as important to take care of yourself and talk to someone. No matter how small or big your injury is you should never feel alone in the recovery process. Injuries can feel isolating, but that doesn’t mean you must allow that feeling to linger. I learned that an injury can be a way to mature and grow as a person outside of your sport. When you do make the great comeback, you’ll be an even better teammate and leader because of how your perspective changed. You’ll value the little things and hopefully you’ll love it even more than you already did!
My comeback to the court came in August of 2017, three years after I suffered a stroke. It was a long process, but one I wouldn’t change for the world. Sometimes you must grow through what you go through. My injury wasn’t just a setback; I look at it as setting me on the right path. The path I was supposed to be on all long. I hope others who suffer from injury or illness look at their situation like this as well.
No matter what you believe in, you can always believe in yourself!
After five years on the Varsity Women’s Basketball team, Avery Marz is graduated as a two-time team captain and a member of the SJU Athletic Director’s Honor Roll. After graduating in 2018 with a degree in communications, she is working towards a Masters degree in writing studies while interning for Turner Sports in Atlanta.