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Our Stories: Rachel Thorne

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.

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 have learned to keep a positive attitude through the hard times, leaning on the support of my parents, coaches, teammates and most importantly 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 visited other 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 be happy if running was not in the equation. I knew I was going to major in engineering, and thus, Georgia Tech was the perfect fit 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 most important to me. I desired to be the best, and thought I could achieve personal bests if I worked hard enough. If I gave it my all, I thought 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 a workout in Piedmont 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 the team, 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 out at Kennesaw Mountain, between the 12th and 13th 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 doubting my ability to come back. 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, I did not lose hope. I came back for cross country season my sophomore year and recorded a personal best in the 5K. I was finally able to compete 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, 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 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 kept hope in God and his plan for his life through it all. 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. And I had a relationship with a sovereign God who had a plan for this all. My accident was not a mistake, but could have purpose. I may not be able to run for a little bit, but my circumstance does not have to indicate my attitude and impact on the team.

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 50-60 miles a week, I’m now running around 30 miles a week. In addition, I can’t run on uneven surfaces, so I stick to running on the track or road.

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 most likely 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. Most importantly, I have found my identity in God instead of track. Ten years from now, people likely won’t remember who won each race, but they will remember the people who helped them along their journey.

While my college career is riddled with Did Not Competes, I am thankful for this journey. I have learned life is about more than myself and my goals, but it’s about being able to impact others.

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