Just weeks before her senior year, Presly Austin had a difficult decision to make. During volleyball conditioning, Austin slipped two discs in her back, causing her to go to the hospital. It happened again only a little while later.
Austin said she had to decide to suffer through the pain to play her last year of volleyball or step away from the sport she loves.
“Is it worth putting myself through that much pain to try and continue to play volleyball for one more year?” Austin said. “Or should I prioritize my health, physical and mental health, to just take a step back and take care of myself, get my physical health under control and be able to support my teams from a different aspect?”
Austin has been playing volleyball for 12 years and started her college recruitment process as a freshman in high school. She said she adored Elon and escaping the cold weather of Alberta, Canada, was a plus.
“I just fell in love with it right away,” Austin said. “I love the campus and the weather was a lot better than Canada, for sure.”
However, injuries began to quickly pile up for Austin and she medically retired after three years with the team.
“It was like the perfect storm of the wrong movement with the wrong timing,” Austin said. “I've grown up being the most unlucky person in the entire world. Like you can ask any of us, any of my friends, anybody at school at home, like it's just been like something that's followed me around.”
Austin said the hardest part of these injuries was going from being on the court to having to sit on the bench and find other ways to support the team.
“Putting my own thoughts and feelings aside and thinking like, ‘Ok, it's we over me.’ It's not about me like, sure I have an injury, which sucks. My teammates all care about me, but I need to give my energy, my time towards the team,” Austin said. “So it was definitely hard but I'm glad that I had gone through something like that.”
Head coach Mary Tendler said she knew exactly what to do when Austin came to her about medically retiring.
“It's hard for any player to end their career with a medical issue and so very sad that she couldn't continue to play on the court,” Tendler said. “But as soon as that happened, I knew she wanted to be a coach. She's been coaching in the past. So I thought, putting her in a role of a student assistant coach would be really good for her.”
Tendler said she has seen aspects of herself within Austin and thinks sticking with the team coaching has helped Austin cope with being off the court.
“Volleyball has been such a big part of my life and I know Presly has the same passion I have for the sport. So it's very sad to think that she can't continue playing,” Tendler said. “It's hard for anybody, and whatever you love to do when you have to stop doing it. But she's able to stay involved with volleyball and I think that's very good for her, especially mentally.”
Austin said she has been coaching the Piedmont volleyball team for over two years now and has enjoyed the experience. Now, with the added experience of student assistant coach of the volleyball team, she said she is considering taking the role post-grad.
“Collegiate coaching is something that I'm definitely considering as part of my step after college post-grad,” Austin said. “Just the bond that I've built with this team alone throughout my injury, the support that they've given me and now watching them as athletes playing like they supported me so much that I still want to be able to give back to them. I still want to be able to support the team in everything that they're doing, even though I might not be on the floor with them.”
Austin and the rest of the team will play Northeastern University at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 in Schar Center.