Williamsport Area High School Alumni GO MILLIONAIRES!
2012 Williamsport Area High School Graduate, Rachel Fatherly is preparing for the Olympic Trials this summer, Steve Lloyd from WNEP did a nice feature story on Rachel:
After Achilles tear, Williamsport grad Rachel Fatherly eyes Olympic Trials
SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Williamsport’s Rachel Fatherly competes in the shot put during the PIAA track and field championships in 2012 in Class AAA competition.
Rachel Fatherly had just produced her best shot put throw, hurling it a career-best 19 meters. Feeling good, the 2012 Williamsport graduate added an extra throw, seeing if she could top herself.
Then a teammate hit her left calf with an errant shot put throw. At least that’s what Fatherly thought.
It was much worse.
Fatherly had torn her Achilles. Months before pursuing her Olympic dreams at the U.S. Trials, Fatherly was tentatively sidelined for 9-12 months following the Feb. 9 injury. But the former state and Big Ten champ has defied the odds and come back stronger.
The Olympics were postponed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trials are scheduled for June 18-27 in Eugene, Oregon.
Fatherly will be there, showing that she is as tough and resilient as she is talented.
“I feel so excited and more motivated than ever. This is my second chance,” Fatherly said. “Last year I was on a good path and now the course changed a little bit, but we’re slowly getting to the path we were on.”
That original path had Fatherly flourishing as the trials approached last year. She was stronger than ever and soaring up to No. 4 in the U.S. rankings. Against some of the country’s top throwers, Fatherly won the Nittany Lion Challenge in January and added another top finish a week later at the Larry Wieczorek Invitational in Iowa. After taking second at the Penn State National Invitational in February, Fatherly felt she was right she needed to be with the U.S. National Championship a week away.
Then she suddenly was thrown way off course.
Fatherly had never suffered a serious injury and was not sure she did following that final practice throw 11 months ago despite describing the sound as a race’s starting gun going off. When she tried walking toward a nearby chair, though, Fatherly knew something was wrong and her worst fears were confirmed two days later.
Her path was well-mapped out and Fatherly had done everything possible to put herself in the best position to make an Olympic push. In an instant, it seemed gone.
“It really was a sickening feeling,” Fatherly said. “I remember being so devastated because I worked so hard and was finally feeling the best I ever had and then all the work and effort was taken away in a second. I was crying as I talked to my parents about it.”
Fatherly had two choices. She could wallow in misery or turn a painful setback into a terrific comeback. After the shock of what had happened wore off, Fatherly chose the latter. She had surgery Feb. 21 and a set of benchmarks with specific dates for reaching them was set.
Fatherly listened to what her surgeon said and then started reaching those milestones like a sprinter, blowing by the field.
“My surgeon asked me what I was throwing and he said, ‘I can get you throwing farther than that,'” Fatherly said. “It was hard to process initially, but I made my goal. I had to be positive to make it through it. I had to be positive because it was going to be a long road for nine months. There’s many milestones that I achieved and for that I am so thankful. I’m more appreciative of being able to compete, being able to lift and train every day.”
With the help of he parents, coach Dane Miller and rehab Dr. John Giacolone, Fatherly had her cast off by Feb. 24, was riding a bike a month after surgery and was able to walk in a sneaker three days later. She was months ahead of schedule and by July was doing power jerks and front squats. Soon after she after she was ready to step back in the circle and throw again, three months before many thought she could.
“God put the right people in my life to help me and they were super-motivating,” Fatherly said. “The thing that helped was seeing me throw 19 meters the day I tore it. I have worked hard every day to get back to that point. It’s helped me become mentally stronger because the last nine months I’ve learned so much.”
Fatherly learned something which induced tears while she was rehabbing. The Olympics were postponed until 2021 due to COVID-19. Her Olympic dreams were still alive. Fatherly already was driven and hearing that news was like Popeye getting a can of spinach.
Still, one major obstacle remained. Fatherly had to make the first throw since tearing her Achilles. Re-teaching herself technique was one thing, but the mental hurdle was more daunting. Like a football player returning from a major injury needing to absorb that first hit, Fatherly knew she had to make that first throw to see where she stood.
Making that throw last July was not just relieving, but emotional. After all the adversity, Fatherly was back.
“I cried because I was so relieved. I did it and it felt fine and natural,” Fatherly said. “Now I don’t even think about it. Each day there was less and less hesitation. After the first one it was sort of like ripping off the Band Aid and I was ready to throw the next one.”
Fatherly will need to place among the top 3 at the trials to reach the Olympics. She was throwing her best before the injury and feels even stronger now. That goal feels well within her reach.
She was knocked far off course, but Fatherly has worked her way back. She hopes Tokyo, site of the 2021 Olympics, is calling. Whatever path leads there, Fatherly is pursuing it with focus and gratitude.
“I’m definitely in a good spot and my goal is to continue to heal and recover well and trust the process. Dane is a phenomenal coach and he has a really good plan,” Fatherly said. “I still have an opportunity and I’m so excited and so blessed.”