Senior Rachel Mikolay will always remember the day her life changed. The former goalie for the Elon University lacrosse team was a freshman at the time preparing for the upcoming season like any other day. After weeks of cardio training, 5K marathons and bike rides, Mikolay one day lost vision in one of her eyes.
“I really started to freak out because I literally could not see through my left eye,” Mikolay said.
Mikolay committed to Elon University for lacrosse with dreams of playing at the collegiate level, but after her vision accident in July 2020, her path to being a college athlete changed. She saw multiple doctors and was never given a diagnosis as to what caused her eyesight issues. Mikolay was forced to medically retire after two and a half years of division I lacrosse after not being cleared to play by her doctors.
“That's when it kind of set in that there's a possibility I'm not going to be able to play again, which was always so crazy, because that was my dream, to play college lacrosse,” Mikolay said. “I kind of felt let down by myself because I never got to play in a game.”
Now, she is still part of the active roster, but she’s accomplishing different things in a new role: social media manager for the lacrosse team. Mikolay, who didn’t know where she’d be at, said her perseverance and persistence is what pushed her to go through her different Elon journey.
A Different Experience
Before her accident, Mikolay spent her freshman year spring at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, training for the field. Even though she didn’t know at the time that her life would change, she was committed to preparing for her return.
“I made a personal goal for myself that I was going to see the field in the 2021 season,” Mikolay said. “I had nothing else to do because everything was shut down because of COVID. So all I did was train every single day.”
When Mikolay first visited Elon, she said she was impressed with the coaching staff and the campus.
“There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to come to Elon,” Mikolay said.
Head coach Josh Hexter is the one who recruited Mikolay to join the lacrosse team four years ago, and he’s also the one who encouraged her to become the team’s creative content editor, producer and social media manager.
“Rachel has always had this way of making everybody feel comfortable,” Hexter said. “She’s comfortable in her own shoes, in her own skin and makes you feel warm when you're around her. Not everybody is like that.”
On the Field to Behind the Scenes
Taking time to reflect and recognize the changes was important for Mikolay. She went from running drills to creating entertaining social media content.
“I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, whether or not I know the reason why it happened with my eye.” Mikolay said. “I'll never know why, as a 19 year old, I had to lose my vision in my left eye. But, it's gotten me to where I am now — the people I've met, the experiences I've had.”
Mikolay said she credits her job as the social media coordinator as the reason why she is still at Elon. The role opened the door for internships with Elon Athletic Communications, the Elon football team, the Smithsonian and even study abroad opportunities such as going to Greece with the lacrosse team over Thanksgiving break.
While technically being medically retired, Mikolay’s name is still listed on the active roster. Hexter said that he sees Mikolay’s role as positive for both her and the team.
“I call it a win-win because we were so positively impacted by Rachel, wanting to still stay on and do our social media, and I know it helped her as well,” Hexter said.
Although she’s not running on the field with her teammates, she’s supporting them from the sidelines. Her role has made her look at the positive side of this experience.
“I'm not just going to quit and give up, I'm going to make something out of this,” Mikolay said. “I'm going to learn and grow. I just hope people understand, when you do get injured and, not even in just an athletic sense, when things go wrong in life, it happens for a reason. It went wrong, and now you just have to make the best situation out of it.”