The amazing ability of Bree Reed’s four-legged best friend

By Jordan Holloway

For someone like Bree Reed, getting behind the wheel becomes a danger to herself and others if she is impaired. But her impairment isn’t the type most people would think of.

Reed was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on May 23, 2013, a few weeks after her thirteenth birthday. Every day Reed must check her blood sugar and remember to take an insulin bolus whenever she eats. Unfortunately, over the past few years, Reed lost the ability to sense when her sugar levels fell. Low sugar levels could lead to hypoglycemia, a dangerous condition to be in while driving.

One morning, Reed was driving to her high school, unaware that her blood sugar was extremely low. As she approached the road to her school, Reed began to swerve. She started to lose consciousness behind the wheel and nearly struck a tree. Thankfully, she was unharmed.

“I was extremely thankful I was OK, and I didn’t hit or injure anyone else,” Reed said. “But this incident really put into perspective that I needed something that would prevent these dangerous lows from happening, and myself not knowing it.”

She spoke with her doctors, but they did not have much to offer in terms of prevention. They recommended adjusting her carb to insulin ratio, and the insulin basal rates she received throughout the day.

“At the time, I had all the recommended tools to help me combat this disease,” she said. “I had an insulin pump. I had a CGM (continuous glucose monitor). I had updated settings in my pump which my physicians provided.”

Reed thought she was doing everything she could to keep herself safe and healthy. Until she learned about a new furry therapy.


The assistance of man’s best friend.

For years, dogs were trained and used as assistance animals for people with disabilities. Examples include guide dogs for the blind, and psychiatric dogs for veterans with PTSD. Today, dogs are trained to assist diabetic individuals thanks to their great sense of smell, which allows them to detect high and low blood sugars.

Reed received a gift from her aunt in Nov. 2019, a 1-year-old Australian Cobberdog, named Bodhi. After learning about the amazing assistance that dogs could provide for people with diabetes, Reed wanted to train Bodhi to be her Diabetic Alert Dog.

“Because of all of my concerns about losing the ability to feel my blood sugars dropping and just learning about the ability dogs had to smell fluctuating glucose levels, I thought receiving Bodhi was kind of ironic and an opportunity I needed to jump on, especially as I moved away from home to come to Carolina,” she said.

Bodhi began his training that same year, and finished his training in Aug. 2020. When he came to live with Reed full time, Reed felt a weight lift from her shoulders. Bodhi gave Reed a sense of security and allowed her to spend more time focusing on things she enjoyed, without having to worry about her blood sugar levels.

“Living with this disease for eight years, I now have a better understanding of how my body works, and what I need to do on any given day to make sure I am at my best and having Bodhi by my side each day helps to make that even more possible,” Reed said.


A dog brings comfort

Bodhi not only serves as a lifeline for Reed, he also provides a feeling of reassurance for Reed’s parents, Scott and Stacey Reed.

“Knowing that no matter if Bree is in class, at her apartment or out with friends, Bodhi is by her side, ready to alert her if the need arises,” Scott said. “That gives me a sense of comfort, like no other, when she is hours away from home.”

“The first night that Bodhi stayed with her, I think was the first time that I actually got a full night’s sleep,” Stacey added. “It gives me a great sense of comfort knowing that something is watching out for her. He’s also just super cute, so that is also comforting.”

For Scott and Stacey, fretting about their daughter 24/7 for the past 8 years has become the norm. They are constantly worried about Reed not knowing her glucose levels are dropping or that an accident similar to the high school one could occur again. However, Bodhi is able to detect the change in levels fifteen minutes before her CGM is able to.

“It is crazy to think that this dog is able to outsmart and outwork a piece of technology,” Scott stated. “But it is not crazy when he belongs to our daughter. It truly is life changing and an added piece of comfort for us as her family.”


Teamwork makes the dream work.

Reed graduated from UNC in Dec. 2020, and is currently getting her master’s in social work at UNC Charlotte.

Jessica Martin, a friend and classmate of Reed, met her and Bodhi on the first day of class, and was amazed by the life-saving assistance that Bodhi provided. Martin believes that Bodhi is a blessing for Reed as he helps her live life to the fullest while protecting her.

“Whether seeing them in class or walking around on campus, it just puts a smile on my face knowing that even though Bree has a life-threatening disease, she is able to live a semi-normal life because of the great teamwork that her and Bodhi have,” Martin said.

Edited by Peitra Knight

A bonding experience for any gamer: the UNC Rocket League Club is growing

By Eric Weir

When Alex Ho arrived on campus as a freshman in 2018, he believed he was done playing his favorite video game, Rocket League, competitively.

It’s not that Ho was unable to play, or was not good at playing – Ho is a highly ranked competitive Rocket League player and was the highest ranked player in the club when he joined in 2018.

Ho believed no one would be as passionate about Rocket League, but to him, it was more than a game.

To others, Rocket League was a strange video game that loosely combined soccer with gravity-defying, rocket powered cars straight out of a “Mad Max” movie.

‘Hey, let’s grab dinner’

When he arrived to campus in 2018, Ho was surprised when he found a small group of people within the Esports Club that liked Rocket League. There were about four seniors and one junior in the initial group.

After a couple weeks of only online play and interaction, Ho wanted to meet them in person.

“Hey, let’s grab dinner,” Ho said.

The club happily agreed and they had their first “Rocket League dinner” together at Chase Dining Hall. It has since become a special tradition.

In spring of 2020, Hall plopped down next to other club members at the Ms. Mong Restaurant on Franklin Street. He kept his head down and said, “Hey guys,” with a defeated tone.

“I feel terrible about this chemistry exam I just took,” Hall said.

“Which class was it,” his teammate asked. “I’ve taken that class, it’s hard, but you’ll be fine.”

Hall says its moments like these where he understands why the number of members has grown so much since his Freshman year.

‘Welcoming community’

The UNC Rocket League Club has grown at a fast rate over the past couple years and its leaders have created a culture of inclusivity that has exploded into one of the fastest growing clubs at Chapel Hill.

In 2019, the club had around 100 members and two competitive teams. In 2021, the members had more than doubled with around 260 members and four competitive teams.

One reason for the jump in membership comes from a competition held between club members in 2020. Suddenly, juniors and seniors were hearing about the club for the first time. Players who casually enjoyed the game but were hesitant to join signed up.

Junior Henry Hall said the welcoming community made a big difference for new members.

“Rocket League is a game where you can play with anybody no matter how good they are,” Hall said. “Like casually and have a good time.”

Similar problems 

Ricardo Tieghi came to UNC this year with similar problems as Ho. He was an avid Rocket League player, but had no one to play with back home in Brazil and expected nothing different in college.

Weeks before heading to Chapel Hill for his freshman year, Tieghi discovered the Rocket League Club through the Esports page on the Heel Life website and happily joined.

The day he arrived, before he had a chance to admire his new room, he made his way to the gaming arena for a welcome back tournament. Problems arose when Tieghi’s teammate did not show up

“Oh my god, I shouldn’t have even come,” Tieghi said.

After contacting Ho and another administrator, they quickly found Tieghi a new teammate.

“We had never seen each other before,” Tieghi said. “We had never played together before, but we went into this competitive tournament playing against the best players here at UNC and we managed to do well which was amazing,”

Tieghi said the club has given him a sense of belonging on campus especially early on in the semester this year.

‘A big factor’

The club’s leadership has been a big factor in the club’s image. For the past four years the leaders have been David Gallub and Ho.

Gallub was one of the founders of the Rocket League Club and he set a standard for being inclusive and kind to one another.

“He was always there to calm you down if you’re feeling doubtful,” Hall said. “He’ll give you some confidence.”

Even though he graduated in 2019, Gallub is still willing to look at members’ resumés and offer advice.

After 2019, Gallub passed the torch too Ho to continue growing the club.

“From the moment I met Alex I instantly realized he was someone very approachable,” Tieghi said. “He’s kind and caring. He makes you feel welcome and makes everyone feel good when you’re playing.”

Rocket League may only be a game but the way the game has brought together a group of people in Chapel Hill has transformed it into something much more.

What was once an exclusive group of avid players has blossomed into a large community spreading laughter and friendship.

Edited by: Anna Blount/Austin Bean

The Meantime Coffee Co.: A glance into UNC’s student-run café

By Ellie Heffernan

 At 6:30 a.m. the Chapel Hill sky is far from Tar Heel blue. The sun still hasn’t risen, and the clouds cast a dirty shade of lilac. Most students will not be awake for hours. The unlucky minority with 8 a.m. lectures will try their hardest to roll out of bed at 7:45 a.m., sprint across campus and somehow still arrive on time.

Alyson Cabeza is already riding her cherry-colored moped to the Campus Y. That way, she will arrive on time for her 7 a.m. opening shift as a barista at the Meantime Coffee Co., UNC-Chapel Hill’s nonprofit, student-run coffee shop.

Open for business

If you arrive exactly when the Meantime opens, hoping to witness the first morning rush, you’ll be disappointed. It already happened. The coffee shop technically doesn’t open until 8 a.m., but Cabeza and her co-worker, Ryan Weston, have already served multiple early worms who arrived as they were setting up. 

Handling pressure is second nature to UNC students like Weston and Cabeza. In one way or another, they are experts at jumping through the hoops of the campus rat race. They run from job, to second job, to third job and finally to the library. But they do it so effortlessly that when asked to describe them, your mind initially jumps to words like “lowkey,” “chill” and “down-to-earth” – as opposed to hard-working.

Maybe this is why the Meantime maintains a cult following among students. Why shop here when dozens of other coffee shops in the area sell coffee from Carrboro Coffee Roasters and baked goods from Durham’s Ninth Street Bakery? Maybe the Meantime’s customers are also buying an idea, a goal to work toward.

For students, by students

 They purchase their coffee from student baristas who work hard, play hard and make it look easy. These baristas are the kind of students you wish you could be and maybe already are, although you probably forget it most of the time. That little voice in your head is too busy distracting you, making you feel as though you are the pile of finely ground beans in the Meantime’s pressurized espresso machine. Despite the internships, part-time jobs, extracurricular clubs, and 16 credit hours’ worth of classes, you’re afraid it won’t be enough to win.

 This feeling is familiar to most UNC students, including Cabeza. She typically works at the Campus Y seven hours weekly, which she says is pretty manageable with her school work. She also has a second job working roughly 10 hours weekly in the Global Office at the Campus Y, and she used to have a third job working at the UNC Student Stores.

Weston works at the Meantime about 10 hours weekly and has class today until 6:00 p.m. When asked how many classes he has, he responds modestly.

“That I’m going to?”

He is scheduled to attend four, whether or not he makes it to all of them is another story.

Juggling work at the Meantime with other commitments can be challenging. When the clock nears noon, Weston says the job itself can also get stressful; especially if you are stationed at the espresso machine while an exponentially growing line of people waits for their coffee.

Most customers are patient, but many of them do not realize that espresso-based drinks, such as lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos and mochas, take much longer to make than drip coffee.

For this reason, the Meantime created a giant flowchart explaining the differences between various coffees and teas.  

The flowchart and other signage sprinkled around the coffee shop creates a homespun, yet hip atmosphere. Like many UNC students, the Meantime evokes a sense of carefully constructed effortlessness.

Not like your other beans

When the shop opened, just over five years ago, “The Meantime Coffee Co.” was painted straight onto the Campus Y’s wall using two different fonts. The shop itself is little more than the necessary machines and beans. The only furniture to be found are two wooden serving bars. Along with the wall, they form the Meantime’s small boundaries.

 The Meantime’s baristas exude dogged, independent youth. On a certain level, they do not care what you think about them. This is hinted at by Weston’s choice to sport a bright, flowery apron with little regard for society’s rigid, gender-based rules regarding dress.

 A willingness to challenge the status quo is not surprising for a coffee shop run completely by students. The Meantime’s current CEO, Alaina Plauche, is a UNC senior. Like Cabeza and Weston, she is firing on all cylinders. She has had six internships since starting her undergraduate degree – seven if you include a position as a research assistant.  One of these internships was with the U.S. House of Representatives.

Like the baristas that serve them, the Meantime’s customers engage in hustles of their own. They slink down the Campus Y’s stairs, as the aging wooden floors elicit shrieks in response to their every footstep. They’re already heading to class, coffee in hand, although the Meantime still has not technically opened.

Close to opening time, the Campus Y remains relatively quiet. A few customers shuffle in, but UNC’s campus is largely devoid of human noise. Leaves crunch and birds chirp as nature reclaims the earth. Until campus groundworkers switch on the leaf blowers and Weston bangs the used coffee grounds out of the espresso machine.

 Minus the vrooming and clanging, the Meantime maintains a peaceful atmosphere. Some indie folk song that you can’t quite make out plays in the background. A customer cheerily promises to return tomorrow when her favorite pastry is back in stock.

Coffee that cares

The Meantime’s baristas seem to actually care if you have a good day. Weston says he feels genuine joy when he can provide customers with their morning fix of caffeine. Most customers respond to this gift with kindness – minus the one “coffee connoisseur” who mansplained how to make espressos, says Cabeza.

 For $15 an hour,  plus a free cup of coffee on the shift, a gig like this is worth the difficulties a student might face getting out of bed so early. Most on-campus jobs pay less than $9 an hour.

When asked what they like best about working at the Meantime, Cabeza and Weston don’t initially mention money. The relationships they form with their customers and coworkers are their favorite part of the job.

It’s clear that the Meantime’s staff are good friends outside of work. The wall is dotted with polaroid pictures of baristas hanging out and the entire staff is going on a camping trip this coming weekend. Cabeza says she still doesn’t know where they’re going, and she doesn’t think management knows either.

Friendship is also extended to customers, who like the baristas – and their beans – are constantly on the grind. This is most clear when an older woman sprints in, her hands wrung in prayer, basically shouting as if these students were gods.

 “You guys are lifesavers! LIFESAVERS!” she says, beginning to ramble.

 She had no idea there was a coffee shop here and after the morning she has had, facing bumper to bumper traffic amid construction on Raleigh Road, she needs caffeine. Now.

Cabeza and Weston smile, listen and get to work on making her drink. They get it. After all, they have places to go, too.

Edited by Jake Jeffries and Natalie Huschle


UNC tours now include more campus history, minority student resources

By Lindsey Banks

When Hunter Edkins gives tours of UNC-Chapel Hill, he shares some of his favorite traditions, but there are some stories he has to leave out. He doesn’t mention the hundreds of naked students running through Davis Library around the first day of finals, the burning couches in the middle of Franklin Street after a UNC basketball victory over Duke University, or students arguing with Gary, the anti-abortion “Pit Preacher” who sits in the middle of campus with a big, red “stop sinning” sign.

But that makes sense. There are some experiences students need to discover on their own once they get to campus. However, when Hunter first joined the Admissions Ambassadors program as a tour guide last year, there were more important things he left out of his tours. During his training to be a guide, he wasn’t taught the University’s history or the resources available to minority students.

New stops for campus tours

This semester, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions made some major changes to the Admissions Ambassadors program. The most significant change: a new tour route, including two new stops to incorporate the missing information.

The first new stop is at a brick walkway called “The Gift,” an art installation outside the Student Union on campus. The walkway was designed by American Indian artist Senora Lynch and incorporates elements of American Indian storytelling. At this stop, ambassadors share that the university was built by enslaved people on stolen American Indian land in the late 1700s. They also highlight the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program on campus.

“It’s something that in the first couple of tours was an adjustment period of becoming comfortable discussing it,” Hunter said.  

The second new stop is at the Stone Center. This building is named after Dr. Sonja Haynes Stone, a prominent Black faculty member on campus in the 1970s and 80s. She was named Woman of the Year by the NAACP and was the primary advocate for the African and African American Diaspora curriculum at UNC.

This information is important to acknowledge on the tour, but Hunter feels these stops do not flow well with the stops before and after, which discuss student life, academics and Carolina traditions.

“It feels a little disjointed because the tone goes from super passionate, super excited to something a little more solemn to then back to that right after,” Hunter said.

Helping minority students find a community

Lydia Mansfield, a new ambassador, has a personal connection with the sentiments behind “The Gift.” She’s a member of the Lumbee Tribe in Pembroke, North Carolina and the historian for the Carolina Indian Circle at UNC. A few weeks ago, professors of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program told students they would be leaving at the end of the year because they do not feel supported by the university. Because of this, the AIIS program is likely to end.

“The Gift” tour stop is dedicated to sharing information about this program, so Lydia hopes the focus of this stop will shift to the resources and organizations that offer minority students a community on campus. It’s something she wishes she had heard more of when she toured as a senior in high school.

When Lydia first arrived on campus back in August, she didn’t feel welcome. It wasn’t until Isaac Bell, a member of the Admissions Office and a fellow Lumbee Tribe member, told her about the Carolina Indian Circle that she found her community. She worries that the lack of outreach to American Indian students will turn prospective students away from UNC.

In her tours, instead of focusing on the negative experiences, Lydia focuses on how the American Indian students on campus today are working toward creating more spots for American Indian students in the future.

The challenges of being an ambassador

Hunter has a similar approach to tours. He separates his feelings toward administration from his personal experience as a student on campus. Instead of commenting on the mismanagement of the mental health crisis this semester, he shares his favorite memories with prospective students and gives advice on navigating the sea of over 19,000 undergraduates.

In training, ambassadors are taught to lean into their storytelling abilities while weaving in important facts about UNC. For example, when mentioning UNC has over 800 student organizations, ambassadors share the clubs they are involved in.

It’s no secret that students and professors do not always agree with the decisions of the university. Within the last year, ex-ambassador Gabriela Duncan disagreed with how the administration handled the COVID-19 outbreaks on campus, the revocation of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure and the mental health crisis after multiple suicides on campus.

“Representing the university kind of conflicts with my values in a way,” Gabriela said. “A lot of the work that I do outside of school regards how UNC is funding the climate crisis, and I probably wouldn’t even be able to talk about this [on tours] because then if I’m talking about how UNC is funding the climate crisis, why would people want to go here?”

During training, Gabriela was asked a practice question: What is your least favorite thing about UNC? Her response: It isn’t as sustainable as it should be. “UNC greenwashes,” she said. An executive ambassador advised against sharing that and offered up her answer as an alternative Gabriela could use: “There’s just too much to do on campus.”

“I was like, ‘No.’ That’s not right to me,” Gabriela said. “Don’t have your negative be a positive thing.”

Gabriela also said that she didn’t feel valued as an ambassador. However, the Admissions Office has made another significant change to combat that feeling, which Hunter was also experiencing. 

Ambassadors are now employees of the university and receive an hourly wage. Before this year, tours were given on a volunteer basis. But because ambassadors are now paid, the Admissions Office had to cut numbers from about 120 to about 65. All previous ambassadors had to reapply to the program. Gabriela felt uninspired to reapply, so she decided not to.

As for Hunter, he was excited to get back out there and have a hand in helping students discover a home at UNC. Lydia shares this excitement, especially about leading a tour for a group of American Indian students on Nov. 20. She hopes to be a resource for them that she didn’t have coming into Carolina.  

Edited by Sara Raja


Paranormal Carolinas: Stories of unexplained encounters

By Claire Perry

Devil’s Tramping Ground Road may scare some, but Tamara Dowd Owens was not afraid as her Honda traversed its dirt that sunny afternoon.

The road is named for her destination: the Devil’s Tramping Ground, a circle of land outside of Pittsboro where nothing will grow, rumored to be the home of Satan himself. 

But Tamara has been driving that road since before the swaths of tourists and reporters, back when it was named Dowd Road for the century of ancestors that have lived in its stead. When she reached the tramping grounds that day, she tied up her hair with a blonde hair tie and told her middle son, Jackson, to get out of the car. It was time to pick up trash. 

The beer cans and chip bags that litter the tramping grounds are covered in a thin dust, salty — so salty that scientists think it is the cause of the circle’s antipathy to the parasitic kudzu that surrounds it.

Today, there are no goat sacrifices sitting in the circle’s center. The trees surrounding the barren glen are not covered in spray-painted pentagrams; no Ouija Boards litter the ground. Today, there is only a hornet.

She warns Jackson.

“Honey, be careful.”

Tamara takes his hand, and meanders away from the circle out to the paths in the surrounding forest. She remembers walking these paths as a girl, getting lost in their spiraling curls until the time was as matted as the briars.

Even now, she refuses to go to the Tramping Grounds at night. She never forgot the warnings of her father, the custodian of the grounds until his death in 2015. He had heard stories of coyote visits, whispers of an ancient native burial ground amplified by the arrowheads he found.

Today, though, there are no coyotes to be found. There is only a hornet, seemingly trailing the pair, stuck on them like one of the path’s stray briars.

She was at the circle a week before, shadowing a group of paranormal investigators. Tamara always watched the people the site attracted from a distance, but that time, she stuck around. She watched the investigators communicate with whatever lived in the circle—or more likely, died — from a paranormal communicator.

“Is anything there?” 


She drove home pretty soon after.

Tamara believes in things unknown, but can’t decide if they are bad or good, lost or found. She doesn’t know what spirits haunt that circle. She does, however, know what haunts the circle today, resting on her car’s rear view mirror until she turns onto Devil’s Tramping Ground Road — a single hornet.

Just a dream 

Barry Landrum struggled to maneuver his hands, pushing in vain against a feather-stuffed Sisyphean boulder that was slowly smothering him. 

Landrum woke up to his pillow in his lap.

He was staying in The Inn at Merridun, an antebellum-era bed-and-breakfast in Union, South Carolina, while covering the infamous 1994 Susan Smith infanticide trial for a local news station. Landrum put the pillow back under his head and tried to drift back to sleep, the thunder that rumbled outside the floor-to-ceiling windows an unsettling lullaby. 

“That was a really vivid dream,” he said to himself. “I’ve never had a dream like that before.” 

It was just that, he thought: a dream. Barry Landrum didn’t believe in ghosts. 

A pair of ice cold hands grabbed his knees, and pulled him almost to the end of the bed. 

Landrum didn’t look around. He didn’t want to look around.

For half an hour, he stared at the ceiling, caressing the masonry with his pupils to distract from his fear of spotting an unknown silhouette. Silent and still, as the lightning cascaded on the bed’s patchwork quilt, he drifted back to sleep.

What Barry Landrum didn’t know before that night was that the mansion housed a mysterious figure who lurked at the tops of stairwells and in the corners of eyes, gone by the time one could get a good look at it. As he scoured the guest book in his bedroom for its mention the next morning, he found nothing, but a clerk confirmed that he wasn’t the first person in. 

Barry Landrum drove back to Charleston the next morning. He wouldn’t tell his wife what had happened for four years, when his daughter Megan was born. Barry Landrum didn’t believe in ghosts — until he did. 

 “Go toward the light”

It was March 17, 2016, St. Patrick’s Day, when 55-year-old David Baxter Long drove his Jeep Cherokee outside of Winston-Salem to Union Cross Road. 

His sneakers hit the pavement. They walked into I-40. By the time the driver realized he had just hit a man, it was too late. David Long had committed suicide.

Julie Faenza was stuck in traffic on a work drive from Raleigh to Boone, her Silver Ford Escape reflecting the thick white sky.  She was talking with her coworker when she saw the firefighters leaning down to check a pulse, and Jones’ feet poking out from under a semi truck. That’s when her stomach started to sink.

Faenzi identifies as an empath, which means she was familiar with feeling others’ feelings, even their pain. This feeling was different.

“It was what I imagined somebody going to commit suicide would feel, that they were in so much pain that suicide would be the only way to end the pain,” Faenza said. “Depression, soul-crushing agony — it was one of the worst things I’ve ever felt.”

Faenza is no stranger to death. Her mother was a trauma nurse, and a childhood friend of the Warren Family, the paranormal pillars of “Annabelle” fame. So as she cried, her eyes stormy like the clouds above as her partner pulled into a gas station outside of Kernersville, she dialed her mom’s phone number.

“What’s wrong?”

“Someone’s dead,” Faenza sobbed. “I feel him, and it’s agonizing and it’s awful and I don’t know what to do.”

Through her tears, she explained the traffic, the feet, the pit that was sinking to the bottom of her gut like a leaden Titanic. Maybe by instinct, maybe by luck, her mother knew what to do. 

 “Julie, you need to tell him to go toward the light.”

“Mom, I can’t.” 

 As her mother kept talking, Faenza thought back to her first interaction with death, shadowing her mother in an operating room when a person coded blue. She remembers crying while taking off the woman’s rings, and her mother’s ever-important words.

“This is a person. They’re not breathing anymore, their heart isn’t beating, but it is a person. That’s what you need to understand. It’s nothing to be scared of, it is a person.”

 Reflecting on her mother’s words, Faenza was not afraid. What happens next, she doesn’t remember well — her memories are fogged with tears. She remembers a one-ended conversation. 

“I’m sorry you’re hurting. Your family will find your body, and they’re not mad at you. It’s okay to go toward the light.”

 The feeling wouldn’t budge.

“Go toward the light.” 

And just like that, the feeling left, plopping out of her like Jell-O, and melting into the gas station parking lot’s iridescent shimmer. Just like that, David Baxter Long went toward the light.

Edited by Claire Tynan

Shooting the stars: Inside the life of a concert tour photographer

By Nicole Moorefield

Catherine Powell first picked up a camera when she was 4 years old at Disney World — or, at least, that’s how her mother tells it.

“That feels dramatic,” Powell says.

In Powell’s version, the story takes place in fifth grade at photography club. Regardless, she began shooting concerts at 14. Her first photo pass was for All Time Low and The Maine at Starland Ballroom in New Jersey.

More than a decade of determination later, the 27-year-old has a successful career as a tour photographer for artists like Dan + Shay and Kacey Musgraves. She shot All Time Low and The Maine on a bill together again in August — very full-circle.

She gets to live the life she once dreamed of — traveling the world, rubbing elbows with celebrities. But it’s not as glamorous as she might have imagined growing up.

An only child, Powell grew up in a sports-loving town in New Jersey that celebrated lacrosse as a holiday. However, athletics weren’t her strong suit — her father flat-out told her she wouldn’t make the softball team — so she found photography.

Amanda Schechter, Powell’s friend since they were 4 years old, likens a young Powell to Kimmy Gibbler, the overly enthusiastic neighbor from “Full House” who became an honorary member of the Tanner clan — “but in a good way,” Schechter says.

“She was always just barging into my house,” Schechter says.

She describes Powell as outgoing, determined and “kind of a tomboy” as a kid.

“She’s really confident, but she wasn’t always,” Schechter says . She grew through life experiences.

Flight after flight, shoot after shoot

Powell was only ever interested in shooting the entertainment world. Avid fans of the Warped Tour, Powell and her friend Ariella Mastroianni were frustrated that magazines weren’t covering their favorite artists, so they decided to start their own. In 2011, NKD Magazine was born.

NKD ran for 100 issues, with cover stars ranging from Kelsea Ballerini to The Madden Brothers. It grew from covering musicians to also featuring actors. 

Powell says deciding to end the magazine was the most difficult decision she has ever made.

“I started thinking about it two years before I actually did it,” she says. “There was no actual profit and I was putting literally every hour I was awake into it.”

By then, she was juggling too much. Powell was the only photographer for every issue. She oversaw a small team of writers herself — Mastroianni left in 2013.

It was a small miracle she graduated college — four years at the School of Visual Arts that she hated, except for the opportunity to move to New York City.

Her professors didn’t consider her work true art. Balancing shoots for the magazine with classes was difficult. For most of her final semester, she was on tour.

Her school had a strict absence policy — three missed classes per course — and Powell managed to meet that. But one professor had a limit of two absences.

“I had to petition my dean to let me graduate,” she says. “Yes, I missed three of his classes, but I also had the highest grade in the class with a 97.”

She fit photoshoots around tour schedules, touring with MAX and MKTO. Some weeks included three 5 a.m. flights. The lifestyle was exhausting, but she pushed on, undaunted.

Her ‘Golden Hour’ 

Enter Kacey Musgraves. Powell was shooting a festival in London that Musgraves headlined. She offered Musgraves’ team her services. They had an opening, and the rest fell into place.

This was three weeks before the release of “Golden Hour,” Musgraves’ fourth studio album that would go on to win Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammys. 

Suddenly, Powell was caught up in a whirlwind. She followed Musgraves on tour with Harry Styles and then shot Musgraves’ “Oh, What a World” tour.

The Grammy win was an exponential change.

“I think she shot up like half a million (Instagram followers) overnight after the Grammys or something absurd like that,” she says.

Powell got her first photos in Rolling Stone — first a small picture and then, a month later, a two-page spread of Musgraves backstage with drag queens.

Paying New York rent to rarely see her apartment finally became too much, so Powell moved to Nashville, where she lives today.

That was in 2019. She published NKD’s last issue four months later.


Now Powell could finally focus on her career.

Then COVID-19 struck.

The entertainment industry lurched to a halt, leaving her with few job prospects. It had all the makings to be the worst time of her life.

Instead, she found her life partner.

Powell met William Stone at a 2020 New Year’s party.

“After our first date, he never slept at his own apartment again,” Powell says. 

Six weeks later, his things and his cat, Ellie, moved in.

Dating through a pandemic means Stone knows a lot more about Powell than most relationships of the same length.

“The joke our friends always make is that our relationship is in dog years,” Stone says, because they covered years in the first six months.

“She is amazingly concise, professional, knows everyone, everyone loves her, good at everything she tries to do,” Stone says. “Except maybe hanging shelves.”

Now that the pandemic is nearing its final chapter, things look bright for Powell. In fact, with the release of Musgraves’ newest album, one could say things look “Star-Crossed.”

Stone says that, when they met, Powell had just finished touring with Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Dan + Shay, and Miranda Lambert.

“It’s like, ‘How do you go up from there?’ And she’s somehow found a way,” he says.

‘Just pushing buttons’

But Powell wants to highlight that life in the entertainment industry is not all that it seems from the outside.

“I think a lot of people assume, ‘Oh, you work for someone who is rich, so you must be rich,’” she says. “‘No, man, I am living very firmly in the middle class right now.’”

Some people assume her work is too expensive and unattainable; others think she can cut them a discount.

“I’m not doing well enough for you to not pay me,” she says.

Despite that, she loves her life, and wants to be remembered for “not being an a******.”

“The tombstone could read, ‘Good at what she did and wasn’t rude,’” she says.

Stone wants to emphasize how “universally loved” Powell is.

“It’s amazing that she has managed to be a creative and be the force that she is without being a narcissist,” he says.

Spencer Jordan, one of her Nashville friends, says it took three months of friendship before he found out what Powell does for a living. 

He compliments her on that humility, saying that “she never throws it in anybody’s face” when she does bring up the names she works with.

As for her photography, Powell says it’s just pushing buttons.

It’s her passion, and it’s her livelihood. But it’s not her whole life. She’s an avid Marvel fan, always buying her friends tickets, and a surprisingly good cook, though she’s allergic to bananas.

But it’s not by luck that Powell is at the top of her field — she worked hard to get here, and she’s not stopping now.

Edited by Mary King and Montia Daniels 

With the Art-O-Mat®, art becomes accessible for everyone

By Mary-Kate Appanaitis

At Carrburritos, customers come to buy burritos, margaritas, tacos, and, if they know to look for it, artwork.

Located in the back of the restaurant sits an Art-O-Mat®.  It’s a restored cigarette machine that now doles out pieces of art, imprinted on wooden blocks or contained in small cardboard boxes, replaced every few weeks as customers purchase the available works of art.

Ranging from miniature sculptures to pieces of jewelry, to small wooden canvases painted in oils, each piece of art that comes from the machine is handmade and one-of-a-kind.

The small machine is part of a collection, with the Carrboro location being just one of over 175 venues that host an Art-O-Mat®. Spanning North America, Europe, and Australia, each machine originates from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and from the mind of artist Clark Whittington.

“It’s gone far beyond anything I ever imagined,” Whittington said. “The massive response was nothing I expected.”

In the late 1980’s, Whittington said a friend had a “Pavlovian response” to the sound of crinkling cellophane. The sound of a bag crackling sent him directly to a vending machine for a snack. Whittington became intrigued with the concept of vendable art. He envisioned that such a machine could bring the ease of a midday pick-me-up to the difficult to attain world of art that he had worked in for years.

Growing up as a lone artist

Born and raised in Concord, North Carolina, Whittington grew up immersed in the environment of the rural mill town. While most of his neighbors and family worked in the mills, Whittington’s interest veered toward art. Though mocked throughout his childhood and young-adult life for pursuing something “weird and unimportant,” his mother, a self-taught artist herself, encouraged him to follow his passion.

While he could practice art all he wanted, finding accessible art in his hometown was difficult. The closest galleries were in Charlotte, North Carolina, and were not open to just any passerby who wanted to enjoy artwork in the city.

“There was always an air of pretentiousness in those galleries,” Whittington said. “They didn’t want people to just appreciate their art, they wanted people who would come in and buy it. People who were ‘dressed to the nines’ and had their wallets out. And that wasn’t me at all.”

After graduating from Appalachian State University in 1988 with degrees in both Arts and Graphic Design, Whittington opened his own gallery in downtown Charlotte with the help of two college friends. The Rococo Fish Gallery was brought to life in the North Davidson Arts District and was the first gallery in Charlotte with no price tags connected to the art installations.

Working towards art accessibility 

Whittington’s goal from the start of his career was to create art that gave all sides of the spectrum of his community the chance to experience the gallery. No dress codes, no judgement for those who came in, and no focus on money being made. He collaborated with other local artists in the city who wanted a space to show off their own works, giving a stage to artists who would not have had the name recognition to be placed into other established galleries in Charlotte.

Whittington worked simultaneously as a graphic designer to pay the bills, running the gallery in his free time out of the office. He was committed to keeping his work-life separate from his art, a strong believer that art should not be associated with making money but should instead be focused on spreading love of the arts to people in his community.

This philosophy remained with Whittington.  As rent increased in the gallery, and the expenses of marriage and children became more pressing, Whittington took a step back from creating, focusing purely on graphic design work to provide for his growing family. It wasn’t until inspiration struck him with the concept of the Art-O-Mat® after moving to Winston-Salem that he once again was able to create art of his own consistently.

Art-O-Mat® takes the world

The first Art-O-Mat® machine was put into commission in 1997, at a solo art exhibit in a cafe in Winston-Salem featuring Whittington’s artwork. The machine, restored through hand-painting by Whittington and filled with miniature prints of his own creation, was a hit. Art was available on-demand for the low price of five dollars, and the citizens of Winston-Salem were captivated with the concept.

Restaurants, bars, hotels, and cafes all around the city began requesting an installment of their own Art-O-Mat® for their businesses, and Whittington became overwhelmed with the amount of art in demand. He reached out to local artists who were interested in collaborating on the project, and the company Artists in Cellophane was initiated, launching its first set of Art-O-Mat®’s.

The cigarette machines were relatively easy to source for the project, as they had recently become banned in the city of Winston-Salem and were being given away for little to no price. Whittington and his team painstakingly refurbished each of them with a freshly painted exterior, and handmade each of the pieces of art displayed on the blocks distributed from the machine.

Whittington watched as his creation of the Art-O-Mat® enabled people of all levels of income and art expertise to purchase and possess their very own custom piece of art. With the low cost, art reached communities previously unable to afford the experience of owning one-of-a-kind work; communities Whittington identified with personally, after being considered an outsider in his childhood. Too artsy for the people in Concord to understand, yet not artistic enough to be accepted in Charlotte.

Sticking to what matters most

Within only a few years, Art-O-Mat®’s had expanded far beyond the city line of Winston-Salem, and Whittington shifted to working entirely with the company, foregoing his day job of graphic design. As the machines were sent first across the country and then internationally, Whittington had to expand his artist list to keep up with the increasing demand for art supply. In each location an Art-O-Mat® was placed, he contacted local artists to recruit volunteers interested in creating art for the masses. Each piece of submitted artwork is sent to Whittington and his team at Artists in Cellophane and approved by him before being sent out for installation into the Art-O-Mat®’s.

“Our Art-O-Mat® is definitely something that people come back for,” said Sophie Thurber, an employee at Carrburritos. “We have to send out for more art every few weeks, and we aren’t even offering in-person dining right now.”

Though his work has infiltrated some of the most highly regarded art galleries in the country, such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Whittington remains humbly committed that the art he creates is truly for everyone. He chooses his venues and artists for the Art-O-Mat®’s carefully, to ensure the people and places he works with are on the same page about what matters most in his work: the community’s ability to experience art, regardless of their social or economic status.

“This is an art project, not a venture capital scheme,” he said. “My work has always been about making art equitable, and that’s really what I try to do.”


Edited by Eva Hagan


‘A chance to feel special’: UNC student showcases style on campus


By Benjamin Rappaport

Annabelle Brown is on the hunt. She sits on the steps of the Pit on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus and surveys her surroundings.

Too boring, not enough color, no pizzaz.

She stalks for a while until she sees it. Floral patterned pants with a bright orange lace top and combat boots.

“Oh, that’s the one,” she says. “That’s so retro.”

With the target acquired, she begins her approach. Brown leaves her bag in the middle of campus, unattended, and runs after the girl with the floral pants walking in the opposite direction. The girl struts with her head bopping along to the beats pumping through her headphones.

Brown taps her on the shoulder with a cautious smile.

“Hi, I’m Annabelle. I just wanted to say I love your outfit. Do you mind if I take a picture of it?”

The target is hesitant at first but eventually agrees after Brown explains she runs an Instagram account, Tar Heel Threads, where she posts funky outfits she spots on campus.

Brown pulls out her phone to show off the page.

“That’s so sick. I love it. I’m Hannah by the way.”

Hannah Kaufman, a fellow UNC student, poses while Brown kneels to get a low-angle shot of the whole outfit. Brown zooms in on subtle aspects of Kaufman’s clothes that catch her eye — a golden butterfly chain necklace, zigzag stitching on the combat boots and a sunflower ring on her left hand.  

The two hug and thank one another. Brown then promises to edit the post and have it up on the Instagram page as soon as possible.

A community of ‘funky friends’

The page has amassed more than 1,700 followers since Brown started it in September.  

“They’re all my little funky friends in their funky fits,” Brown said.

She started the page to encourage her peers to break out of the mundane. Dressing to the nines was her way to do just that.

As a sophomore who is attending her first year of in-person classes at UNC-CH, Brown said she wanted to form a community on campus that matched her energy and explosive self-expression.

She said she often uses her own sense of style to give herself energy. She has battled depression and anxiety since middle school, but wearing an outfit that makes a statement gives her a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

“The little compliments I would get on my outfits would get me through the harder days,” Brown said. “No matter how crummy I felt one day, I still had to get up and get dressed.”

It was those passing smiles, the “I see you girl” from strangers and the positive aura she would feel when she put effort into an outfit that she wanted to inspire others to have too.

Because the premise of the page involves approaching strangers on campus, one might imagine that Brown is a social butterfly. She, however, says that aspect of her personality has only come about in the past year.

For Brown, the page is also about fostering a sense of community she didn’t have before. While approaching new people is sometimes difficult because of her anxiety, the possibility of a new friend and the opportunity to make someone’s day pushes Brown out of her comfort zone.

“After a year of isolation, I am just desperate for something bigger than myself,” Brown said. “I wanted community so badly that I was willing to try anything.”

The DISCO mindset 

Now with a decent audience on campus, Brown said people will recognize her and ask to have their photo taken for the page. Some students, like Xavier Nix, even started dressing up just for the chance to be featured.

“Annabelle is such a fashion icon,” Nix said. “If she picks me out of the crowd, maybe that makes me a fashion icon too.”

Nix is now a member of what Brown calls her paparazzi — people that help Brown spot outfits when she is out on campus. While there are currently only two paparazzi members, Brown said she likes keeping the team small.

“I feel like we are giving individuals the opportunity to share their looks on a larger platform,” Nix said. “I also just love the diversity of people and styles we’ve been able to find.”

The diversity of styles and people featured has become a pillar of Brown’s vision for the page. She calls it the DISCO mindset, which stands for diversity, inclusivity, sustainability, creativity and opportunity. Those aspects are driving the types of outfits she chooses to post on the account. It also provides a way for Brown to hold herself accountable.

“The goal of Tar Heel Threads was never to center myself as a white woman,” she said. “I want to see people of all sexualities, gender expressions and racial backgrounds exploring the fun of fashion with me.”

The focus on the DISCO mindset is part of why she employed the help of Nix, a queer Black man.

“It takes a lot to recognize that you, as a white person, have an unconscious bias,” Nix said. “That Annabelle could do that and then say, ‘I know I’m going to accidentally choose too many white people for this page.’ It really says a lot about her character.”

Spreading individualism 

As the page’s following grows at UNC-CH, the idea is taking hold on other campuses too. Brown said she has been asked by people at Wake Forest University, the University of South Carolina and more if they can start their own version of Tar Heel Threads.

While Brown said she does not have a plan to expand the account or her paparazzi team on campus, she loves the idea of having college campuses around the country showing off their finest fashion.

Annabelle Brown will continue going on her hunts for the best fashion the UNC-CH community has to offer, and she hopes if you’re a target it’ll give you a little spark to keep being out of the ordinary.

“Everyone deserves a chance to feel special,” Brown said. “You dress for you, and I am so happy to see all the individualism people are confident showing off.”

Edited by Isabella Sherk

Identity in threads of the past: student thrifts to grieve and grow

By Sammy Ferris

Like ravenous ants attracted to the pheromones left by those who came before, estate sale buyers file into houses of the deceased, one-by-one, sniffing out their harvest for the day. Buzzing and hunting, each one is attracted to a different aroma.

Caroline Le, 21, scurries to the women’s wardrobe, hungry to find a decadent collection of lingerie to bring back to her nest. Amid the flowers of 80s wallpaper and the sheen of gold metal bedposts, she sifts through a stranger’s closet. Under a heap of clothing, she spots her feast: a chili red corset. She snatches it, imagining what it will look like in her next photo shoot.

Coping with clothing

In May of 2020, Le founded Vintage by Caro. Branded with her nickname, it is a clothing brand that sells vintage and secondhand clothing. The mission hinges on honoring those who wore the pieces first and appreciating clothing for the story it tells through its details.

The business was an idea forged in a mind hot with grief and stoked by the fires of family tradition. Le decided to meld her passions into one creation.

A few months before Le started Vintage by Caro, she lost her best friend Raj to suicide.

She met Raj when she was 10 years old, in Monterey, California. They were two kids bouncing through the transition into adulthood on the trampoline in his backyard. Friendship that started because they bonded over being short, they found comfort in their similar stature and shared living experiences in Asian-American culture. When the time came for them to go to college, they stayed close. He attended Duke University, and she went to UNC-Chapel Hill.

Le describes hearing the news as a full-body visceral reaction. It shifted her towards a mindset that she did not have prior to his death.

“It showed me that if I want to pursue something, there is no better time than now. And if I don’t appreciate the small things and the beauty in life then it’s just going to pass me by,” she said.

Vintage clothing is unlike fast fashion. It was curated with longevity and craftsmanship in mind. Back then, designers doted on the bustiers and lace teddies that Le loves with the attention to detail like helicopter parents of an only child. Adorned and cradled, these clothing items possess a sense of purpose.

Exactly the kind of care and intentional design that Le decided to live with in honor of Raj.

Threads of tradition

Le first started vintage shopping for leisure with her mother, Colette Le. For their family, thrifting is multigenerational, and it connects Le to her Vietnamese identity.

“My mom and I have gone secondhand shopping, specifically vintage shopping, since I was little because it was ingrained in her from her mom. They came over to this country from Vietnam with little financial means. My grandma would always say ‘there is treasure in someone’s past. You just have to dig to find it,’” Le said.

This tradition has a deep meaning for Le. It ties her to her family’s history and the future she hopes to see. She is passionate about healthcare, particularly for older Americans. Vintage by Caro represents an effort to bridge the generational gap. Le hopes that by providing millennials and Gen Z with clothing from older generations, she can cultivate a sense of awareness about caring for those who wore the pieces first.

Vintage by Caro has become a thread in her tightly knit identity. During her first few years at UNC-Chapel Hill, Le was designing a persona from the scraps of others. Returning home during the COVID-19 pandemic and grieving Raj offered her the opportunity to reevaluate who she is and who she wants to be.

She began thrifting with her mom again and relit her connection to her heritage. Combining her newfound philosophy with identity, Vintage by Caro moved her forward through remembering Raj’s life and her family’s past.

Her best friend and roommate, Maria Rita Furtado, said that when they reunited in 2021 after a year of separation and of Vintage by Caro, she could see a palpable difference in Le.

“I can see that you know who you are,” Furtado said.

“For a while, I wanted to be a little bit of everyone else, and that’s what I was building myself on. With Vintage by Caro, it is all my interest, my own, and through it, I feel like I am me,” replied Le.

“When you go to a school like UNC – with a lot of cliques and white privilege and especially when you’re a child of immigrants – a lot of your life is assimilating. It is trying to look like everyone else, trying to be like everyone else. But you have really stepped into your own,” said Furtado.

A lasting impact

Le strives to bring the her self-growth to Vintage by Caro’s community. Her Instagram serves as a digital coffee shop: a space on social media to meet people in an ambiance of comfort and warmth. Each post is offered like a free cup to her following. She calls friends to come on in and try something new. Only, what’s new is actually vintage, and coffee cups are blouses and bodices.

Her reach extends beyond North Carolina. Recently, she received a direct message from a college student named Izzy who lives in Chicago.

“I love this business, I love this mission, and I am here to support it,” Izzy wrote.

Since that first message, Izzy has been one of Le’s most frequent customers. She represents the ripple effect on which the business has built. Friends of friends spreading Le’s message about appreciating craftsmanship and each other.

She describes her following as loyal and diverse, and she is steadfast about her mission to cultivate community.

Photographer for Vintage by Caro Rainey Scarborough said that being part of this movement makes collaborating a more gratifying experience.

“When I take a photo for her, I think how someone’s going to buy this, wear it, and it’s going to be part of this larger chain of events. I like participating in something that inspires people. It creates community and helps give back,” she said.

In less than a year, Le graduates from college and enters the next phase of her life. As a public health major, she hopes to keep bridging the generational gap by helping older Americans with their healthcare. She does not know exactly what that will mean for Vintage by Caro, but she now has the trust in herself to not fear that uncertainty.

She says she is not sure that if Raj was alive Vintage Caro would exist. Her business is a lining in her life made from threads of his memory.

Vintage by Caro is a handwritten invitation to join the party. One where the attendees are wearing brightly colored dresses, and the ice is served in a crystal container. Le will greet you at the door with her past, present, and future stitched on her sleeve. Her patches of honor.

Edited by Em Welsh

Leah Gneco: the gymnast who persevered through four ACL surgeries

By Emery Summey

She dedicated 17 years of her life to the sport, yet it only took one faulty landing to change the course of Leah Gneco’s gymnastics career. At the age of 21, the former collegiate gymnast received her fourth ACL reconstruction surgery, and her fifth surgery total.

A few days after her 16th birthday, Gneco was on the balance beam at gymnastics practice, gearing up for her dismount. She had been training extra hard in preparation for a college coach coming the next day. As Gneco zoned in and hurdled for the roundoff, her foot missed the beam.


Despite the pop in her neck, Gneco remained calm. It was 15 minutes later when her hands went numb, and Gneco’s parents rushed her to the emergency room. They learned that Gneco had torn ligaments between her fourth and fifth vertebrae and also crushed her spinal disk. The injury required Gneco to undergo surgery if she ever wanted to be active again. After two plates, eight screws and a cadaver bone, everything was fused back together. Gneco was back doing gymnastics three months after the surgery, unaware of the four major knee surgeries she would later undergo.

Dusting herself off

In 2017, a week before the regional championships, Gneco was training on the balance beam during practice. She was setting up to finish her back handspring back layout when her right knee popped out of place upon landing. Gneco noticed her knee began to swell, but continued with practice and even participated in conditioning. She eventually went to the ER with her parents, where she was referred to an orthopedic surgeon and received an MRI. 


 “I’m sorry to tell you this Leah, but your right ACL is torn and we need to schedule surgery to fix this,” Dr. Dasti said. 

  “So, my junior prom is next week, and I already bought my dress,” Gneco said. “I still really want to go. Is there any way we can schedule the surgery after prom?”

 “Yeah, we can do that,” Dr. Dasti laughed. “But you’ll need to be on crutches until your surgery.”

 Gneco agreed to the deal, knowing she wouldn’t take those crutches to prom. 

With junior year being crucial to the college recruiting process, Gneco felt down about not being able to attend college gymnastics camps over the summer or show her skills to coaches during practice. Nevertheless, she remained optimistic that her body would heal quickly, and she would return to her old self in no time. After a nine-month recovery, Gneco was back to her normal training schedule.

Familiar feeling

Almost a year later to the date, Gneco was once again on the balance beam training for regionals. She was setting up for her series, back handspring back layout when she landed and felt a familiar pop in her right knee. She finished her workouts and even continued training for the next week, in denial of the hard truth. When she could no longer bear the pain, Gneco went to a new orthopedic surgeon specializing in female athletes and received her second MRI scan. 


 “Hi Leah, my name is Dr. McCarthy,” she said. “I see you’ve been through this before, but unfortunately you have torn your ACL again.”

  “Yeah, I could feel the exact same thing as last time, but I thought I could keep pushing through and go to nationals,” Gneco said.

Dr. McCarthy shook her head in disappointment.

“We are going to have to schedule another surgery to fix your ACL and I would like to do it pretty soon.”

Gneco made a face.

“Last year I postponed the surgery so I could go to my junior prom … will I be able to go to prom after my surgery?”

“Yes, you can go to prom after,” Dr. McCarthy said. “But you will have to be on crutches, and you will probably be in a bit of pain.”

 Gneco smiled and agreed, knowing that this time she couldn’t avoid the crutches.

Slow and steady

With her senior year over and a 13-month recovery ahead of her, Gneco headed to UNC-Chapel Hill to start summer classes. She slowly began rehab, weightlifting and eventually gymnastics. Entering college as an athlete, Gneco felt the excitement and pressure to deliver her gymnastics skills. She was thrilled to compete and contribute to the team, but also skeptical about what her knee could handle.

Throughout preseason during her sophomore year, Gneco frequently felt her knee pop out of place or lock up. It seemed like something was wrong, but her desire to compete in college was strong. One day in practice, Gneco had one more bar routine and asked her coach if she could leave out the dismount because her knee was feeling sore. Coach left the decision up to Gneco, who decided to go for it. As soon as she landed, she felt her right knee get blown out again. This time, Gneco was in too much pain to even stand up. She was familiar with the routine, but this time was different–Gneco instantly knew her gymnastics career was over.

Gneco went to UNC-CH’s knee and ankle specialist, Dr. Jeffrey T. Spang, who said that her ACL was torn once again. This time, however, she would have to undergo two surgeries to fix her knee. The first surgery would be in February to remove and regrow her ACL, while the second one would be in June to go back in and complete the reconstruction. With an 18-month recovery ahead of her, Gneco was devastated by the abrupt end to her gymnastics career.

A new normal

By the start of her junior year, Gneco had a slim chance of ever returning to gymnastics and decided to medically retire. With so much of her identity focused around the sport, she had to create a new normal for her everyday life.

Currently in her senior year, Gneco has found the positive side of medical retirement. Not having to spend 20 or more hours a week in the gym has given her time to focus on her future. Now, Gneco is working at Labcorp, has completed all of her medical school applications and is exploring new interests such as cooking and baking. Fifteen months out of surgery, she is still not cleared to do high levels of physical activity. However, Gneco’s love for gymnastics remains.

“Gymnastics has been my whole life for the past 18 years,” she says. “It has taught me to be resilient, adaptable and to push through challenges in all areas of my life. I have sacrificed so much of myself for the sport, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Edited by: Natalie Huschle