Feb. 22, 2017
Rachel Thorne (as told by Justin Fedich)
“Our Stories” is a RamblinWreck.com feature that provides first-person stories from current Georgia Tech student-athletes on their journey through academics, competition and life once their athletic careers are over. These young men and women represent the ideals of what it means to be a STUDENT-athlete at Georgia Tech. These are their stories.
Throughout my college career as a runner for Georgia Tech, more often than not, my result for a race has been “Did Not Compete,” but anyone who knows me has no doubt that I’m a competitor.
My name is Rachel Thorne, and I am a 21-year-old senior student athlete for the Yellow Jackets cross country and track team. I came to college ready to compete, but injury after injury has kept me on the sidelines throughout most of my time at Georgia Tech. While it hasn’t been easy, I’ve never quit, learning to keep a positive attitude through even the lowest of lows, leaning on the support of my parents, coaches and teammates as well as my faith in God.
When I arrived at Georgia Tech, I set a goal I thought was achievable if I put the work in. I wanted to beat my mother’s school record. My mom, Bridget, who was a runner at Georgia Tech, holds the school record in the 3K.
My father Kenny has also made a name for himself in Georgia Tech sports. He was an All-American tennis player for the Yellow Jackets and is currently the head coach of the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team. His success on the court landed him in the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame.
I received offers from top schools around the southeast, and originally wanted to attend a school away from my comfort zone. However, my father told me to choose a school where I would get the most out of it academically. I knew I was going to major in engineering, and thus, Georgia Tech was the school for me.
Coming into Georgia Tech, I had a big legacy to live up to, but I was ready to take it on. My parents raised me and my three siblings to play as many sports as we can, because they saw the value sports has in all aspects of life. I played tennis when I was younger and soccer in middle school, but running was the constant that I knew I wanted to keep doing well into high school and college.
When I first began running at Georgia Tech, I was thrilled to be a part of a team, but my personal goals were first and foremost. I desired to be the best, and I knew I could achieve personal bests if I worked hard. If I gave it my all, and there was nothing holding me back from leaving the same type of legacy my parents left at Georgia Tech. Well, except injury.
During my freshman year, when I was redshirting cross country, I was running an eight-mile loop in the park. I dropped out on mile three or four and couldn’t walk or run. It was a month before it was realized I had a stress fracture, and it would be some time before I was out there again being able to run with my teammates. It was frustrating to not be able to run with my teammates, especially as a freshman who was so eager to show what I was made of, but I cross-trained with my teammates and was determined to get better.
When sophomore year rolled around, I was ready to go again. In my mind, I thought the first injury was just a small hurdle I had to jump over in order to make the most of the opportunity I’d been given. I was wrong.
During a long run in practice, between the 13th and 14th mile, it happened again. This time, I felt it in both my ankle and my knee. It was another stress fracture, and I needed ample time to heal both my ankle and knee before getting back out to running. Through it all, my coaches supported me, never once giving me the option of quitting. Still, I thought the second time dealing with injury would be easier because I’d already been through it before. It wasn’t.
I wanted to contribute athletically to the team so badly, but once again, I was forced to the sidelines. Though I was upset, my spirit was not broken. I came back for track season my sophomore year and recorded a personal best in the 5K. I was finally able to prove my worth as a Georgia Tech runner, and it felt great. Unfortunately, I was not finished experiencing setbacks.
On Oct. 1, 2015, as I was driving down I-85 playing music, I slammed into the car in front of me trying to merge over to an exit lane. I felt a pain shooting up my leg, and then I realized I was in the middle of I-85 unable to move. My brother Zach eventually picked me up, helped me hobble to his car and took me home. After a few weeks of being on crutches, I was told I had a small break in my foot and didn’t think I’d need surgery.
A return visit to the doctor revealed I’d torn my Lisfranc ligament and the only option to regain full foot function was surgery. It was devastating news, and at first I didn’t take it well. Despite all the support and love pouring into me, even my relationship with those closest to me and my connection with God couldn’t lift my spirits. I didn’t understand why I was the one who had to be going through this. When I was around others I would put on a happy face, but inside I was crushed.
It wasn’t until I started reading a book called “The Comeback” by my pastor Louie Giglio that I started to change my perspective. Specifically, one chapter helped me cope with my situation best. Giglio wrote about a runner at the University of Georgia named Jarryd, who one day needed his leg amputated after being diagnosed with compartment syndrome. He became a Paralympian and helped inspire others through his achievements.
It made me realize that things were bad, but I still had both my legs. I still had people who believed in me. If I quit now, what message am I sending to the rest of my teammates?
I went through the recovery process again and returned for my senior year, but the pain in my foot didn’t go away. I had a CT scan done on my foot, and it was determined that although I wasn’t going to have another surgery, I needed to alter my training plan to make the pain go away. Instead of running 60 miles a week, I’m now running 30 miles a week. In addition, I can’t run on uneven surfaces, so I stick to running on the track when I can.
It’s yet another setback in a long line of injuries for me, but I haven’t sulked about not being able to be at full strength the way I used to. Of course I still get upset. When I watched my teammates running 300 meter repeats — one of my favorite workouts — while I had to hold the timer, I was holding back tears. When I realize I won’t be able to run a marathon, which was a goal I’ve had for a long time, it’s hard to not be sad.
I came to college hoping to break my mother’s record. That’s not going to happen, but what I’ve gained is worth more than time can count. My father once told me, “People don’t relate to the easy parts of life. People relate to the struggle."
During my time at Georgia Tech, I’ve struggled a lot. But through my challenges, I’ve been able to help others facing similar uphill battles. Ten years from now, people likely won’t remember who won each race, but they will remember the one time they were helped by someone else.
While my college career is riddled with Did Not Competes, I can still hold my head high because now I’ve learned something I didn’t realize when I got to college. I’m the toughest competitor I know.