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Surviving Together

A team comforts one of its own — even without knowing why

By Gabrielle Fox as told to Amy Wimmer Schwarb

On my recruiting visit to Salisbury, I was talking to volleyball coach Justin Turco, and he said, “What is the most important thing for you to find on a team?” Instead of “winning,” I said, “family.” He didn’t say anything. He didn’t assure me or defend his team or say how great they were or that they were family. He knew his team would speak for itself.

In 2015, I was running track the spring of my senior year in high school and tore my ACL. Calling the coach and telling him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I was still welcomed with open arms. He said, “I’m sorry to hear that, but you’re still part of this team. We’re not dropping you. We love you already, and you’re already part of this family.”

Fall 2016 was going to be my first time being able to play. I labeled it my “Redemption Year.” I said, “OK, I’m back, and I learned a lot on the sidelines. And now I’m going to be able to play for Coach.”

Our first tournament was Sept. 2. We were traveling to Gettysburg College. That’s not far from where I’m from in Carroll County, Maryland, so my mom was going to meet me at Gettysburg. I texted my mom and said, “I can’t wait to see you today.” She just responded with a lot of emojis, telling me she couldn’t wait to see me.

I was getting comfy in my seat when Coach announced to everyone, “Hey, girls, since it’s our first week of traveling, we’re going to do a social experiment. Turn in your phones.” Everyone was saying, “What is Coach doing?” But we just trusted him. We passed him all our phones.

On the bus, a lot of the girls were doing homework. One girl was playing the ukulele. I was taking a nap. I had turned in my phone, but I didn’t think about the fact I was wearing my Apple Watch.

When I woke up, I had a few vague messages. A friend from home who plays for Messiah also was going to be at Gettysburg, and she wrote me, “Hey, Gabby, I love you so much.” I just texted back, “Hey, girl, I love you, too.” She said she was praying for me and said, “Please tell me you are not going to the tournament and are on your way home.”

I walked straight up to the front of the bus, and I apologized to the coach for forgetting about my watch and asked if I could have my phone to call my mom. Without hesitation, he gave me my phone, and I saw him texting at the same time. Turns out he was texting my mom. I called my mom, and she just told me how much she loved me and that she couldn’t wait to see me. And then she told me to give all my electronics to my coach.

It was obvious I wasn’t going to get anything more out of either of them. Finally, I stopped trying. We were on Interstate 70, still mid-bus ride, with about an hour and a half to go.

And then the most amazing thing happened. When I turned around to go back to my seat, I saw all my teammates’ hands on each other, praying. When they saw me bolt up to Coach, they just acted on it. They dropped everything, even though they had no clue what was going on. They were just praying because they knew that would comfort me.

They asked me to sit with them and join them. I was crying because I had no clue what to do and no idea what was going on. They prayed for me to have healing, comfort and wisdom. I reached a certain point of just being OK and just being content because I was with a family. I was really scared, but I knew I was safe. I was terrified of what was happening at home, but I had this comfort of my coaches and team around me.

Once we got to Gettysburg, I saw my mom, and she just grabbed my hand and walked me away to a curb. My brother ran to me and embraced me and told me that Dad had passed away. I remember my brother hugging me so tight. I had so many questions running through my head about what the dynamic would now be in my family. Everything started to realign in that moment.

Last season wasn’t “Redemption Year” anymore. For me, it was more like “Survival Season.” I went to every practice, every tournament. It was just a joy to be with those girls who took my mind off what the world had brought.

My mom is a selfless servant. She loves others by simply doing; it’s such a tangible love. My dad brought the emotional aspect into the mix. He loved by affirming others with their passions, dreams and goals even when they didn’t quite line up. My mom is the “doer,” so she is able to bring everything full circle to make sure you reach your goals, while my dad would be your biggest cheerleader on the sidelines.

Within the last year I’ve been able to see how my mom is becoming more of that emotional shoulder when I need it. Even though she’s trying to love me in a different way, you can’t help but feel the hole where my dad isn’t.

Every year, we get a T-shirt for the volleyball team. Last year’s said: “Win today because you can only focus on one day at a time.” I always said my win was that I at least didn’t drop out.

This year, our T-shirts say: “One family, one team.” This will be my “Redemption Year.”

Gabrielle Fox is a junior on the Salisbury women’s volleyball team. She is a nursing major.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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