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Cerebral Triumph

Jan. 21, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– My admiration for Kristine Priebe grew the other day after I learned that we share a dark, um, well, I wouldn’t call it a secret. And come to think of it, dark is not a proper word, either.

Before you wonder why I “admire” a Georgia Tech softball player in the first place, background: I respect college student-athletes because they’ve accomplished something I was unable to pull off. My baseball, football and wrestling careers ended with high school. Mountain biking and slow-pitch are not the same.

Plus, my twin daughters (Roo is well, by the way; thanks for so many kind thoughts after you learned of her concussion last week) love softball.

Moving back to point, upon hearing that the first baseman is nominated for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award, I was more impressed.

Priebe has a grade point average over 3.00 with a mark of 3.46 last semester, and plans to graduate with a degree in public policy in spring of 2012. She wants to be a firefighter, which her mother was, on the way to a possible management role in public service, and she’s already a certified first responder. Her track record in community service is so long in half my years as to embarrass me by relative comparison.

Yet my impressions grew less because of what she’s accomplished, and more through learning what she’s battled to do it.

When I was a child, it was called hyperactivity. That was a blanket term for what now includes several learning disorders and/or behavioral issues. I was a leader in the field, but I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time talking about it. (Surely, my disjointed missives have tipped some of my thought processes, right?)

Priebe was diagnosed with Learning Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (LD/ADHD) and related effects as a freshman at the University of Florida, and that explained a lot.

“I got tested because I was struggling . . . I would spend five extra hours on a paper that most people would spend an hour on,” Priebe said. “Even in high school, I would always be the last to finish a test. And sometimes, I’m thinking but I’m not able to get it out.”

I was diagnosed in third grade. My better reference points to what my “hyperactivity” meant came after that, however, because I had a habit for forgetting or avoiding my medication and on those days I was hell on wheels.

With the attention span of a gnat, recurring lack of plan, and modest interest for most anything other than a chance to physically compete, school was a wall. I was a head that kept banging it.

This continued through college, where I survived on the repeated begging of my father to please, please not give up.

My parents and I knew the lay of the land when I was 8. Still, even with outside intervention (no longer in play in college), I was no better than a B-/C+ student even though I routinely tested well at various indexes used to gauge raw IQ and mental dexterity. My mind was never empty, but little in it was connected, and the inventory churned.

There was always a game in there, a bunch of statistics, maybe a party, perhaps a circus or two, some girls, a few theories on how to re-invent the wheel . . . yet I routinely left so much unfinished.

And here’s Kristine Priebe, who bulled through similar cerebral interferences for at least 10 years more than I without clinical diagnosis — let alone medication or outside intervention — to put up academic numbers on par with excellence. And she finishes what she starts, even if it takes her longer.

She is granted extra time at Tech to take some tests, and because she has difficulty with spelling she’s allowed to use a dictionary in some situations.

So while we share something, I admire her more for what she has that I did not – a baseline will to create a plan and push it through even when there are fireworks between her ears.

She comes by her ethos honestly.

Mom was one of the first four female firefighters in California, in San Diego. Cindy’s career path changed after her second torn ACL (she fell through a roof while fighting a fire). Joe retired last year after spending 33 years in the Los Angeles Police Department, the final 14 with the canine narcotics unit.

Their lists of community service are long. The fruit did not in Kristine, the middle of three children who grew up in Moorpark, Calif., about 45 minutes northwest of Los Angeles.

She has helped build houses with Habitat for Humanity, worked to raise money for Haitian earthquake victims and cancer patients in several locales, works with Eye-to-Eye, has visited multiple elementary and middle schools and worked as a mentor with children of all ages and backgrounds, worked toy drives, recycling pushes, Earth Day events and much more. She’s also in the GT Athletic Association’s Women’s Committee and Social Committee.

With her boyfriend, defensive end Jason Peters, leading the way among Tech student-athletes who jump into help whenever they can, Priebe said she typically commits five to 15 hours a week serving others.

You try that. And keep that GPA up. And hit .331 with 15 home runs and 59 RBI to earn first team All-ACC and second team All-Southeast Region honors on the softball field, where her passion was born at age 4 when her first coach put a ball on a tee and said, “Pretend like that’s your brother’s head.”

Bet you couldn’t do it. I didn’t come close.

Priebe’s course through life – which has been traveled as if she’s always behind enemy lines – has been steely.

She did not want to go to college in California because she’d already been there. “I figured if I’m going to college for sports, I might as well take advantage of the opportunity to go somewhere I’ve never been before,” she said. “I loved Gainesville.”

Like so many college students, it took her a while to stick a bearing. As she said, “I was thinking about being a veterinarian, an architect, an artist, but vet school is very long and it would have been difficult with softball to do architecture and art. I think I only know one athlete who’d been able to go through architecture.”

Her time with the Gators, who went to the College World Series in each of her two seasons, was fruitful. Yet once Priebe honed in on a career choice, she learned that the academic curriculum she would likely one day need as background if she is to climb ranks in public service was not available at Florida.

So despite losing the equivalent of more than a year’s worth of credits from Florida, where she was a two-time SEC honor roller, she transferred to Tech: “I quickly found out that I was going to be working very hard. I’m going to be very proud of my career here because you have to work really hard.”

There is a knack in Priebe’s family for turning what might seem sour fruit into fine fate.

Her father grew up in L.A., and her mother in San Diego. Joe once attended a convention in San Diego, meeting Cindy. She was working there only because she was injured, after that second ACL blowout.

They married, started a family, and here is Kristine helping front it.

She’ll be behind the scenes for a while yet. If she doesn’t go to graduate school after finishing up at Tech next spring, she’ll likely seek work as an Emergency Medical Technician (she’s in EMT training), although she’ll consider options like, “Water rescue, forest fires, helicopter jumping . . . ” and more.

There’s something about Priebe, right?

Teammates, acquaintances and friends from California seek her advice. She has a grip, even on the disorder that’s come from shadows. “Just me talking about it helps me deal with that,” she says with a flush skin tone that might indicate she doesn’t enjoy certain disclosures but for therapeutic value.

Eventually, it’s a good bet she’ll climb the ladder because once she gets somewhere and finds her bearings, Kristine Priebe is quite adept at charting a course and staying on it – even if her compass spins. She has a special penchant for creating light where there might be dark.

Maybe this explains something, huh? Do you know anyone like Kristine Priebe? I’d like to hear about it at stingdaily@gmail.com.

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