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Throwing Away Odds Against Recovery with Mitch Earley

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wake Forest chapter.

Meet Mitch Earley: a sophomore at Wake from Southboro, Massachusetts, hopeful accounting major, stock market junkie, fan of fishing, snowball fight enthusiast, likely to be found eating a cheeseburger at Putters while wishing he was eating lobster instead. What have I left out? Oh yeah- he’s also a member of the track and field team who has worked against injury to fight for a comeback to competition.

It all started back in the fall of Mitch’s junior year at his all boys high school where he broke his leg playing football. Coming back from his injury, a friend suggested the track team. “I set the school worst in the 55 yard dash and proceeded to do awful in shot put.” Clearly his skills, which are second only to his sense of humor, made him a shoo-in for the spring season of outdoor track. “I was bad at discus, still bad at shot put, and then I tried javelin and qualified for nationals,” said Earley. Thus began Mitch’s sudden shift from a football player to a track athlete.

Although two very different sports, Mitch enjoys the new challenges that came with the shift. “Throwing Javelin is an A to B linear relationship. You know that 10 feet is always 10 feet, or 10 seconds is always 10 seconds. You have to compete as much against yourself as your opponent, because your results are solely dependent on what you do and how well you perform that day.”

Unfortunately, things curved  sideways at nationals during the spring of Mitch’s junior year when he felt a pop in his elbow. He later found out that he had torn his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Opting away from surgery, this prompted a series of injections to try and re-develop the ligament to the point he could throw. This, sadly, brought limited results, and surgery was required to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament, a procedure commonly known as Tommy John surgery. Hard work and physical therapy fell just short twice more, and after continued complications  Mitch underwent two more surgeries to restore his ulnar nerve. “Now that the muscle is working again I can feel things in my right hand and turn a doorknob or do the things I struggled with before.”

Since his most recent surgery over the summer, Mitch has been working closely with the Wake Forest sports medicine staff to get ready to return to competition. Just this past week, he threw for the first time in nearly two years, over three years since his last competition. “It’s been a long enough time coming that I was just ready for it to be happening. There was a lot of anxiety wondering, ‘Will it work,’ and ‘Will I be able to perform at the same level,’ alongside the pressures that come just with being a D1 athlete. For the most part, you just have to have hope, because being able to throw again is also being able to get back to who I am.”

Mitch’s future is still uncertain to tell. “I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to come back strong for the spring, but it’s all about pain tolerance and how it develops.” But after such a long time without being able to compete for his school, there’s one thing that’s certain. Mitch is itching to compete. “I’m excited to travel with the team again and be a part of something bigger than myself. Through athletics you get a chance to do something you love for the benefit of a community. For me it’s a big deal to be able to do that again.”

All this progress has come as no easy task. On top of his studies Mich has to worry about practice or lifts and physical therapy sessions on a daily basis. “A lot of being a student athlete is prioritizing. You aren’t able to do everything. To succeed in school and to be a full time athlete while staying on top of rehab, finishing all my homework, getting good grades, and getting eight hours of sleep at night leaves very little time for much else. It’s all about knowing there’s a sacrifice and being willing to make it. We work closely with academic support personnel to achieve the type of success we want in and outside of the classroom.”

The best advice he has to offer? “You just have to keep going. Sometimes an injury can seem like the end of the world but you just have to realize that it’s just a phase. You can’t get too high or too low off anything because right when you think you’re on the brink to coming back you may be faced with another setback. Just know that it’s all a path, and just because there isn’t a direct route doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.”


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Kelly Andrew

Wake Forest

Just an Arizona girl who loves her birkenstocks 
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Betsy Mann

Wake Forest