Marching through adversity, a student’s journey onto the field

By Abigail Keller

Throughout campus, Sarah Ferguson zooms along the uneven sidewalks. Often attached to an electric scooter, her wheelchair pivots and twists to narrowly avoid absent bricks sticking out like chasms. 

Ornamented with a “Finding Nemo” keychain and a plethora of personalized embroidered art, her blur is impossible to miss as flaming red locks blaze behind her. 

Most Saturdays, Sarah’s long ginger mane is tied and tucked into a shako carrying the university’s emblem and a plume of vibrant blue feathers. For members of the Marching Tar Heels, the shako is a symbol of pride and community atop their heads.

For Sarah, it represents a journey of hurt, music, and finding belonging. 

It began in the fourth grade. Sarah can remember hearing brash notes fill the house as her brother soulfully played the saxophone. From the first time her hands gripped the hand-me-down brass instrument, she knew there was no going back. 

Sarah attended Burns High School in the lush countryside of Lawndale, North Carolina. After watching the local professional drum corps, Carolina Crown, perform at Gardner Webb University every year, the decision to join her high school marching band was obvious. 

Towards the end of her junior year, she left Burns High School to study at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics – an academic journey that was cut short.

A life changing experience

Midway through NCSSM’s first trimester, Sarah suffered a traumatic brain injury that led to the development of epilepsy and the declining function of her autonomic nervous system. 

Her life spiraled into a cyclone of doctor visit after doctor visit. 

It wasn’t until a geneticist diagnosed her with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an inherited disorder affecting the connective tissues, that her questions were answered. 

Immediately after her stroke, Sarah was hemiplegic – unable to move the entire left side of her body. Eventually, her upper body regained mobility, but the lower extremities never did due to a tethered spinal cord.

Sarah’s newly diagnosed condition made her significantly more aware of her overly flexible joints and fragile arteries, but she played on. 

With the love and support of her mother, who Sarah compares to a protective pit bull, she returned to Burns High School for yet another fresh start. 

“A lot of things change when you become chronically ill and disabled, you lose a lot of friends and learn who’s real,” Sarah said. “My mom has always been one of my biggest advocates.”

Up until her senior year of high school, Sarah methodically marched across the field as her fingers danced up and down her conical bore of an instrument. During her last season with “The Marching Dawgs,” she was a part of the marching band’s front ensemble, flying from the keys of marimbas, xylophones, and vibraphones.

Every Friday night, she got high off the roar of the crowd and the glaring lights illuminating her smiling face after every half-time show.

But just four months after her senior marching season concluded, a worldwide pandemic upended the life that she knew. 

It was just one of those moments.

Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing as the world rapidly began to shut down.

Students thought they were getting an extra break in the school year, but that quickly transformed into clicking on a Zoom invite for class and waving to their friends from their bedroom window. 

For Sarah, 2020 ushered in many major life events.

It brought her high school graduation day and the beginning of her time at UNC-Chapel Hill.

It also brought a stroke and adjusting to life as a paraplegic.  

Already home due to the pandemic, Sarah continued her virtual studies and returned to campus as a sophomore last year. 

However, she was fixated on one question.

Was there a place for her in the marching band?

“I was really nervous to ask about joining the marching band,” Sarah said. “But my roommate kept bugging me and bugging me, claiming that I can’t stop talking about it, so I decided to send an email.”

This email leaped through cyberspace and landed in the inbox of Jeffrey Fuchs, director of UNC-CH’s university bands. 

Before she knew it, Sarah was sitting in his Hill Hall office and discussing all the details of her becoming a Marching Tar Heel for well over an hour. 

There was no hesitation on either side, it was an immediate yes. 

“Music’s been a source of opportunities and a place where I feel like I belong to people,” Fuchs said. “That’s what I try to do here … it’s about the music, but more importantly, it’s about the experiences band members have that they couldn’t have otherwise.”

Not only was Sarah going to look the part, donning the esteemed Carolina blue jacket of a Marching Tar Heel, but she was also going to be back on the field, getting the full experience.

Finding her legs

The first step? 

Finding someone to march on the field with her.

During that year’s end-of-season banquet, Fuchs casually mentioned that Sarah would be joining the Marching Tar Heels in August. He knew that someone with music and marching experience would be the preferable choice to assist her.

At that moment, Annie Flanagan, a junior trombone player, knew that role was for her. 

Since Annie has arthritis in her jaw, playing her instrument throughout the day and at nightly marching practices often led to immeasurable pain. 

Already a human development major and accessibility advocate, it was as if this position was kismet. 

Sarah often refers to Annie as her “legs” since she treks across the 100-yard stage pushing her wheelchair during practices and performances. 

Even though they are two separate beings, they move as one.

If Annie gets lost or confused on the field, Sarah’s hand gingerly tilts her wheel to guide her in the right direction. 

Like a flower during the cusp of spring, their bond has blossomed into a relationship scarily close to telepathy. 

But Annie is no hero.

“My belief is that things should just be inherently accessible,” Annie said. “I’m not doing some amazing service. I’m just playing my part in what I can do to help make this experience more equitable.”

For many, music is a melting pot for individuals from all walks of life to dive into and revel in. 

And for Sarah, the excitement of being back on the field enveloped by music was incomparable.

An old and new life interwoven.

“It was a feeling I thought I was never going to have again,” Sarah said.

 

Edited by Eric Weir and Monique Williams

Finding balance as a college athlete, a UNC student’s experience with burnout

By Harrison Clark

Charlie Schuls finally laid down in bed, physically and mentally drained. His legs felt like jelly and he stressed about what he was missing back on campus. 

The Villanova University men’s tennis team had completed a taxing doubleheader in Annapolis, Maryland. The squad took on the Navy in the early session and finished the day playing Morgan State University. Schuls competed in three matches in one day: two in singles and one in doubles.  

At night, Schuls thoughts left him tossing and turning. He was not motivated, had no energy and the wear on his body was taking a toll. Behind in classes, he missed being home and craved balance.

Schuls commitment to tennis was getting in the way and it was sucking the life out of him.

A cherished memory

Pushed by his tennis-loving father Erik Schuls, Schuls had a racket in his hand since he was six years old. After starting on a smaller Quick Start net at Gaston Country Club, he graduated to hitting over the real net, something he had long been waiting for. In celebration, his mom, Emily Schuls, made his favorite pesto pasta. 

Schuls won his first state championship at 10 years old and dominated state rankings growing up, representing Forestview High School and competing in club matches. 

While Schuls relished the competition, the joy he found playing with his friends is what he cherished the most; none more so than with his close friend Dillon Gooch. The two played club doubles together for over seven years, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses like the back of their own hand. 

Before heading off to college, Schuls and Gooch made sure to enjoy their last match together at Cary Tennis Park. Underneath their warmup jackets and sweatpants, they matched navy-blue tank tops with the phrase, “Weights Before Dates,” in white block lettering coupled with $4 gold chains from Walmart. Schuls wore a dull orange headband in stark contrast to his bleached hair. The lower half of his outfit featured skin-tight black shorts, rainbow socks and neon blue Adidas tennis shoes. 

They won the title and celebrated by throwing on a new neon green tank top that read “BEAST” across the chest. 

“It was such a funny but awesome moment,” Schuls said. “We honestly stole all the momentum because the other doubles team could not believe what we were wearing.” 

Later on, Schuls waited patiently for one of the four courts to finish before getting his match against Xavier University underway.

By the time Schuls took the court, the scoreboard read 3-3. In the race to four points, Schuls’ match would decide the winner.

After losing set one of the best-of-three in a tiebreaker and going down 5-3 in the second set, a fire lit inside Schuls. He battled back to win the second set and set up a winner-take-all third set.

Schuls was down three match points in the final set and his legs weak from sprinting all over the concrete floor. He aggressively pounded winning shots with no fear, many grazing the baseline and often hitting the corners, with him finally clinching the match in a final set tiebreaker. In a frenzy, the entire team mobbed Schuls on the court, similar to a hitter walking off a baseball game. 

For a moment, it was fun again. It was his moment. 

The burnout begins

For Schuls, the burnout ignited shortly after he stepped foot on Villanova’s campus in the fall of 2018. He immediately had a schedule and routine that he would follow for a full year.

6 a.m. workouts. Class. Practice in the afternoon. Lifting. Late-night labs. Homework. Sleep. 

Repeat.

Schuls’ entire perception of practice changed. Fun practices he remembered in high school turned into tiring, lethargic afternoons; with sweat pouring down each player’s face and no smiles to be seen. 

Zero goofing off.

Burnout for collegiate athletes is extremely common. Many associate it with physical and mental exhaustion; others see it as a lack of motivation. 

While outsiders desire the popularity, financial benefits and talent that comes with being a collegiate athlete, they often overlook the lack of balance in an athlete’s typical college life. The sport becomes an occupation, leaving room for struggles in the classroom and a lack of social life off of the court. 

Most Division-1 athletic teams do not accept athletes who are STEM majors as labs tend to interfere with team activities. Villanova gave Schuls the unique opportunity to help him as the only player to study pre-med on the team.

“My coach worked with the school to get me labs that did not affect my tennis schedule,” Schuls said. “It was one of the main reasons I chose to go to Villanova.”

Schuls tennis requirements meant his nights carried over into the library and chemistry labs. He consistently studied late at night and never felt up to date.

Schuls rescheduled exams midweek in preparation for the weekly matches. It made him further behind. He had no time or chance to be successful, especially in his field.

Finding a balance 

In March, Emily and one of her close friends attended one of the four matches she got to see in person. They both could immediately sense her son’s frustration and lack of motivation.

“This is not the same kid anymore,” the friend said to Emily.

And it was true. His usual bright smile had vanished. 

He had academic goals. He wanted to be social. He wanted balance. Tennis was not fun anymore.

His win against Xavier flashed in his mind. He felt he had already had his big moment, that another one was inconceivable. 

He shared frequent calls with Erik and Emily, yearning for change, upset about constantly missing class and wearing his body down.

At the end of freshman year, the tennis chapter closed and his new life at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill started.

UNC-CH was the only school Schuls applied to out of high school. Hopeful of a medical future and with friends attending, it seemed like the perfect fit, until Villanova offered.

Schuls called his tennis buddy Luke Townsend on the UNC club tennis team, curious about what they had to offer. Townsend gave him the rundown.

Optional practices.

Full social freedom.

Great competition.

The balance Schuls had wanted.

Ready to graduate in December of 2022, Schuls could not be happier. He has represented the club tennis team and played throughout the year in tournaments on his own time. He also joined the Sigma Nu Fraternity, fostering a new group of friends and allowing him to finally have fun again. Now, he’s decided to go pre-dental and has applied to multiple dental schools across the nation. 

“I have all I want here,” Schuls said. “I found the balance I had been searching for all along.”

Edited by Ryan Mills and Macon Porterfield 

 

Rameses XXII: From the farm to the football field

By Audrey Selley

Three hours before the game. Six miles from the doors to Kenan Memorial Stadium, Otis is swarmed by family and friends in a frenzy to get him polished and prepped for his awaited appearance, first at the UNC Bell Tower for pictures and autographs, then on the field at the stadium.

Every UNC student knows Otis, but they don’t know they do. The 3-year-old, 225-lb hunk of wool could easily pass as any other sheep — except for the handmade, monogrammed blanket wrapped around him and the paint on his horns (which sticks on for months like fingernail polish), both Carolina blue.

As soon as Otis barrels out of the stadium’s tunnel and onto the field, he transforms into Rameses. The booming from the cannon, fans screaming and the band’s fight song are so loud they vibrate the field underneath him, the same field his predecessors have run across for one hundred years.

Rameses’ roots

Behind it all is the Hogan family, with roots in Orange County stronger than Otis’ horns. Henry Hogan began Carolina’s live mascot tradition back in the 1920s as a way to emulate the star quarterback of the UNC Football team, Jack Merritt, who was known as the “battering ram.”

Back then, the Lake Hogan Farm was the name of his dairy farm and not a real estate development. There were more than 50 family farms in the area instead of the handful left today, and store-bought food, not farm-grown food, was a luxury. 

Otis made his debut as Rameses XXII during the 2021 football season, following in the steps of Rameses XXI, who spent a decade on the throne.  

Out of earshot from the Bell Tower and away from the hustle and bustle of UNC’s campus, Otis enjoys his tranquil reprieve at Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm in Carrboro, where the sounds of cicadas and wind provide a welcome solace from the 50,000 screaming people and stadium fireworks.

Until it was sold in the mid-1990s, every Rameses lived on Lake Hogan Farm along with a hodgepodge of cows, horses, pigs, chickens and dogs. Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm was initially where the Hogans grew food for the animals at Lake Hogan Farm, but now it’s where the few remaining farm animals, including Otis, live.

Chris Hogan, Henry’s grandson and one of the fourth-generation caretakers of Rameses, grew up on Lake Hogan Farm. Chris remembers loading up Rameses in a pick-up truck on every Saturday home game and driving to the stadium, holding him steady in the back alongside Chris’ cousins and siblings.

“It’s always fun when we take him slowly through Carrboro and then down Main Street and Franklin Street with all the blowing horns, and everybody’s just hooting and hollering and having a good time,” Chris said.

Times were less strict then. Anyone who managed to place a hand on Rameses while he ran through the tunnel was allowed to stay with him on the field, and now only four people are allowed.

To the Hogan family, it’s a family tradition more than a UNC tradition. To this day, flocks of family and friends gather at the farm hours before the game. Everyone takes a turn to paint his horns (endearingly now deemed “Hogan Blue” by the local hardware store).

At the Bell Tower, a line quickly forms where little kids jump up and down waiting for their turn to touch Otis and get a picture like he’s Santa Claus.

“I don’t care if you’re two or 92, the first thing you do when you see him is smile,” Chris said.

Straying from the pack

Instead of hailing from the farm lineage like previous Rameses, Otis is from a breeder in Virginia. He’s one of the few horned dorset sheep left in the U.S., because more and more wool breeders remove the sheep’s horns.  

While fans are used to the golden-retriever-like friendliness of Otis, past mascots haven’t all been as fluffy and warm as their wool. Horned dorset sheep are known to be an aggressive breed.

Hugging and petting Rameses and getting photographs with him wasn’t even a thing for earlier mascots. Some who were so belligerent they had to be chained up during games.

The key to Otis’ congenial, easygoing nature? He grew up without other male dorset sheep around. This was intentional, because male dorsets can be competitive and aggressive with each other.

“While they are domesticated, they’re not pets. Otis has done wonderful, but he knows exactly what those horns are for. It doesn’t take but a flick of his head to hurt somebody,” Chris said.

Anytime he’s invited to alumni events, fraternity houses or parties, his appearance unleashes an electric energy in the room, as kids, students, and alumni of all ages become one, brought together by an unspoken connection to Otis.

The tension in traditions 

But being in the spotlight also draws some unwanted attention. 

As kids, Chris and his cousins would sleep in the barn before rival home games, hide themselves in the hay and keep quiet. They propped their BB guns up on the hay barrels for a good aim if they caught any potential ram-nappers.

One time, a group of Duke fraternity brothers successfully stole Rameses and spray-painted ‘Duke’ on his wool before a football game (thankfully the blanket covered it up).

Another time, some students from an out-of-state school tried to sneak up on Rameses in broad daylight. But Chris, laughing, said he snuck up on them first.

“It was all in good spirit. And that’s what all this is about and why we do it, just team spirit and having fun,” Chris said. “It’s just always a wholesome event, where people of all ages can touch and hug him and get pictures with him.”

Continuing the Rameses tradition is also a way for the Hogan family to expose an increasingly urbanized and developed Orange County to the small part of family farming that remains.

“There’s a real disconnect with the agriculture community and the urban community, and that’s all part of what this is about too, keeping that connection,” Chris said. “It’s really very important. My family is a perfect example of it. I mean, there’s nobody that’s going to go back into farming. It’s just not feasible financially to do it.”

Since it began, the Rameses tradition has stayed constant for the Hogan family — a reminder that some things never change, and you always have your home to fall back on.

Like the paint on Otis’ horns, some things just stay the same.

Edited by Emily Gajda and Annie Gibson

 

UNC senior Megan Murphy has a ‘sixth sense’ — helping others

By Guillermo Molero

Sometimes they’re blue. Other times they’re green, a little corduroy number stretching from head to toe. Or maybe burnt orange or bright yellow, like leaves falling from trees.

Whatever color they are, Megan Murphy always wears overalls.

For the co-president of the Campus Y, a student-run advocacy group at UNC, they’re more than just a fashion choice. They’ve long been a symbol of her willingness to take charge and do what she must to get things done.

The Nashville native was always involved in something.

When she was a young girl, her mother founded an initiative to help women who had been the victims of violence and trafficking.

These women were all around Murphy during her childhood. They were her babysitters, watching her and her friends build makeshift towns out of old cardboard boxes and other junk in her yard. They were farmhands, right alongside her and her overalls as they tilled the soil. They were at Thanksgiving, passing mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce along a crowded table.

They were family. And she did everything she could to help them.

“I was 8 years old with a very complex understanding of injustice, inequality and systemic reasons why people would end up in the situations that they were in,” Murphy said. “And it made me really fiercely angry, honestly.”

Murphy the ballerina

That fire kept burning all throughout high school, even if she wasn’t the liveliest kid when she first started there. She was an aspiring ballerina whose most distinguishable trait was her good posture — that is, to those who didn’t know her better.

“I wouldn’t say she was shy,” said Spindel, a friend she met in seventh grade. “This is still Megan Murphy we’re talking about.”

Spindel, who prefers to be referred to by their last name, talked about how she eventually garnered a reputation for activism, even if she was quieter than most. A baby radical in a sea of plaid-skirt conservatives, Murphy found herself blacklisted by the “cool girls.” They often made group chats to make fun of her more “liberal” beliefs, adding insult to injury by including her friends in these toxic text chains.

After an audition where she was cast aside because of her body type, she stepped away from ballet for good. It was difficult for her, she said. But the dance she once thought so beautiful and graceful had become repetitive and repressive. Her pointe shoes were like shackles. Her tights, suffocating. She needed to break free.

And through her activism, she did.

Murphy the activist

The 2016 election came around the same time as that audition. Spindel talked about how the moment marked a turning point for her — an enlightenment, almost.

She had become fed up with the toxic rhetoric of Donald Trump, the race’s eventual winner. 

She was shocked by the apathy with which she thought he and those supporting him treated people from disadvantaged communities. 

She just couldn’t just stand idly by as the world around her became nastier. She had to do something. She had to help them. She had to make change — and she had to do it right then and there.

“The thing that’s unique about her is that it’s not about her at all,” Spindel said. “It’s not about Megan Murphy.”

And it wasn’t.

It was about those women she had been helping as a child and still works with today, helping them move on from their painful pasts and start a new life filled with love.

It was about the victims of gun violence for whom she and the 300 classmates walked out of school for the March for Our Lives protest.

It was about people in Nashville struggling with homelessness, who she went to bat for at more Town Council meetings than she cared to admit, and who she helped cope with the onset of gentrification in their neighborhoods.

“And that was what I lived and breathed,” Murphy said. “It was everything to me.”

Murphy the leader

She eventually applied to UNC because of the Campus Y, which she saw as the perfect place to continue serving her community. But this time, she’d have more help doing it — help from people like Laura Saavedra Forero, who joined the group last year.

Murphy was in charge of recruitment for the group at the time, so the two often ran into each other at meetings for first-years and other new members. Not long after, they started hanging out outside of the confines of the Y, quickly becoming close friends.

November 2021 was another turning point for Murphy, this time sitting in her home alongside Saavedra Forero. The two were eating tomato soup and grilled cheese. Murphy slightly burnt hers, but it still tasted good.

They talked about their experiences at the Y — the great work they’d done so far and what they wanted to do in the future. Murphy shared her thoughts, both good and bad, with her legs stretched out on the floor where they sat. Then Saavedra Forero. Then back again.

Eventually, they decided they could do more than they were doing at the time. They both ran for the group’s co-presidency. In the spring they won. And then, it was back to work.

Saavedra Forero said the start to this year has been a dream, largely because of how much work she, Murphy and their executive team have been able to do by supporting their campus community and helping those seeking affordable housing in Chapel Hill. 

But she also said that it’s Murphy’s kindness and her effervescent energy that has made the job all the more fulfilling.

“She’s stepped in and showed up, especially during some of the hardest times that I’ve had, both as a friend and as co-president,” she said.

When Saavedra Forero went through major surgery this summer, Murphy was always the first one to ask how she was doing and to tell her she loved her.

And when her friend Sam Toenjes needed a roommate this semester, Murphy was there, too.

He met Murphy at freshman orientation in 2019 and the pair have been good friends ever since. Murphy’s current achievements would probably surprise many of her high school friends, but Toenjes said he knew at first sight that Murphy had a knack for that sort of thing.

 “I mean, the overalls at orientation were a pretty dead giveaway,” he said.

He said living with her has been so simple because she always knows when to step in, whether it’s to do chores around the house when he’s studying or asking if he wants to go get coffee when she can tell he’s having a bad day.

“She’s so intuitively helpful. She can always sense when something’s off,” he said. “She has a sixth sense for these things.”

She knows so well what it means to help other people, and is more than willing to put her ego aside to do it. She always has.

Edited by Madison Ward and Brianna Atkinson.

‘Literally anybody can play’: pickleball group takes “new” sport to Iceland

By Lauren Fichten

When Nisarg Shah and his friends took a month-long boys’ trip to Iceland over the summer, they spent their days exploring, eating and embracing the culture—the holy trinity of tourism.

However, the trip wasn’t all hiking and bar hopping. They came to Iceland on a mission: to expose an entire country to a new sport in the hopes that it will eventually qualify for Olympic consideration.

The sport is pickleball, and it’s only “new” to Icelanders because the sport is not commonly played there. Once a retirement community favorite, pickleball is now the fastest-growing sport in America— especially among players under 24.

“Literally anybody can play. It’s super easy to pick up, and there’s now a push to make pickleball an Olympic sport,” Shah said.

In order for pickleball, a combination of tennis, badminton and pingpong, to qualify for Olympic recognition, the sport must meet a set of criteria established by the International Olympic Committee. For one, the sport must be widely practiced by men in at least 75 countries across four continents and also by women in 40 countries across three continents. This goal has not yet been reached.

The Traveling Picklers

Shah, along with Harrison Lewis, Kobe Roseman and Bobby McQueen, set out on a quest to spread the good word of pickleball. The disciples of the sport dubbed themselves “The Traveling Picklers.” 

The Picklers are a product of Morehead-Cain, a competitive merit scholarship program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The group met during the interview process before the start of their first year and remained friends throughout their time at UNC-CH. They were able to secure funding for their pickleball pursuit through the scholarship’s Summer Enrichment Program.

Aside from hosting spontaneous clinics, The Picklers engaged in extensive outreach prior to the trip with the goal of connecting with Iceland-based tennis organizations, IOC members and people from towns along the Icelandic Ring Road. Establishing their presence before entering the country seemed the best course of action but garnering responses proved difficult.

“You get an email from a random kid in a random other country saying a random sport name that you’ve never heard of in your life. That’s an email that a lot of people might just delete and move on,” explained Roseman, a recent graduate of UNC-CH.

Despite the lack of replies, The Picklers moved forward undeterred, becoming more comfortable in an unfamiliar town and setting up camp in the hopes that people’s interests would be piqued.

They hoped word would spread quickly, and according to Roseman, that’s exactly what happened.

Typically, after pitching their nets in a local park, The Picklers began to play in hopes of attracting curious spectators. The group hit the ball back and forth over the net. Guided by small paddles, the plastic balls caught air – and the attention of park-goers.

In one instance, a crowd ranging from pre-teens to adults in their twenties slowly started to abandon whatever they had been playing to gather around The Traveling Picklers, enthralled by the new sport.

Shah estimated that around twenty strangers played for about two hours that day. For him, it felt like a scene out of a movie.

“You’re in a foreign country; you have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t know the local language at all, but somehow, there’s this connection of just inherently everyone is attracted to [the] sport,” Shah said.

Though The Traveling Picklers seemed to have a mammoth objective, it wasn’t entirely unfeasible due, in part, to Iceland’s size. Raleigh’s population alone is larger than that of the entire nation of Iceland. Reykjavik, Iceland, where the group spent most of their time, is home to around a third of the population— a little over 100,000 people.

Playing pickleball and gallivanting across Iceland sounds deceivingly effortless but their crusade was not immune to struggle.

While some of their challenges could have been foreseen– like the fact that the weather in Iceland is generally not conducive to pickleball— other mishaps were less predictable.

Trials along the road

The Picklers arrived in Reykjavik in June, fresh off the red-eye flight from Raleigh. Lugging two thirty-pound nets, around 50 paddles and their luggage into a taxi, they set off to the address of their Airbnb. 

Except they didn’t. Their driver had dropped them off at the wrong location, confused by the spelling of a street name.

After realizing they were in the wrong place— what appeared to be some sort of construction site— they chased the driver down and were met with reassurance that the Airbnb was around the corner. The apartment was not around the corner and neither was their taxi as it drove out of sight.

Unable to hail a cab, there was only one solution.

“We mapped it, and it was like a 1.5-mile walk. And we’re like ‘Alright, we’re just going to kind of have to deal with this,’” Shah said.

With over 60 pounds of equipment in tow, the group accidentally saw all of downtown Reykjavik over the course of an hour and a half. In true Traveling Pickler fashion, they made the best of the situation, absorbing a city exploding with color, bursting with the smell of seafood restaurants and populated by lively tourists, conveniently ignoring the baggage weighing them down.

Occasional hardship, like getting a flat tire on the Icelandic Ring Road, had established itself as an inherent aspect of the trip, and it was best to embrace it.

Aside from the casual goal of introducing an entire nation to an unfamiliar sport, they made time to appreciate Iceland’s culture and acclaimed scenery. 

“I had no idea how many waterfalls we would see, and it’s really just, nature wise, a beautiful place,” Lewis said.

Beyond Iceland

As The Picklers neared the end of their trip, one of its most unexpected moments arrived in the form of an Instagram direct message. 

Ruth Ellis, a retired family doctor living in Washington, D.C., became an avid pickleball player after picking up the sport four years ago. Born in Iceland, Ellis visits the country every few years.

Noting a lack of pickleball opportunities in Iceland, she reached out to The Traveling Picklers after reading a blogpost written by Shah on The Dink, a pickleball platform. 

Upon expressing interest in carrying on the clinics and further exposing the sport, she hopped on Zoom with The Picklers to discuss the details— like obtaining the equipment provided by sponsors. Just like that, the torch was passed.

Ellis has three events scheduled in November alongside the USA Pickleball Ambassador for northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

Aside from the motivation to introduce pickleball for the love of the sport, Ellis also wants to see pickleball qualify as an Olympic sport in the near future.

Edited By: Chloe Teachey and Collin Tadlock

Seaboard Cafe to close: regulars reflect on their ‘home away from home’

By Meg Hardesty  

Norwood Pritchett orders the same meal for lunch almost every day while he sits in the same white plastic chair on the outdoor patio of Seaboard Cafe. 

At this point, he doesn’t have to order his old-fashioned chicken salad on whole wheat with Lay’s potato chips and a blueberry lemon muffin. Pritchett is a regular customer at Seaboard Cafe in Raleigh — the staff know his order by heart.

Since 1991, Seaboard Cafe has been located inside Logan’s Garden Shop, a repurposed space in the historic Seaboard Railroad Station. Logan’s sold its property in 2021 with plans to relocate, but without the local cafe.

For many customers, Seaboard Cafe is more than somewhere to eat lunch. It is a gathering place, an adopted family… a second home. As the news broke that Seaboard Cafe would be closing soon, Pritchett and other regulars will lose that sense of community.

A Safe Haven

Pritchett’s wife preceded him as a regular. She ate lunch at Seaboard Cafe multiple times a week for seven years while working for the Wake County Public School System.

He had accompanied her a couple of times before she died in 2007. To honor her memory, Pritchett began to eat lunch frequently at Seaboard Cafe.

“I decided in my mind I was not going to be the kind of person to sit at home and watch television,” Pritchett said. “After losing a loved one, if you turn inward it can be very dangerous.”

Her sacred lunch place became his favorite spot to socialize and get out of the house.

“That was my therapy, to be around other people,” Pritchett said. “While I’m retired and live by myself, it helps quite a lot.”

Seaboard Cafe became Pritchett’s second family, the staff always greeting him by name. Every year on his birthday, the cafe staff celebrates with a song and cupcakes. With the cafe closing soon, Pritchett is sad to abandon his happy place.

“Go crazy and go starve to death is what I’ll do,” Pritchett said. “That’s what our concern is, that we’re all going to starve. I really just might.”

Another regular, Candy Lewis, remembered how she and her mother, Polly Horton, once shopped for flowers at Logan’s in the spring. Stopping inside, the two made a ritual of grabbing one of Seaboard’s homemade muffins. 

When Horton was diagnosed with dementia 20 years ago, Seaboard Cafe and its customers became like a big family for them; Lewis called it a home away from home.

“She felt so safe there because everybody was so friendly,” Lewis said. “My mother never forgot that.” 

Over the years, people who have frequented Seaboard Cafe have dropped off family pictures and Christmas cards at the restaurant. The cafe’s founder, Richard “Rick” Perales keeps a bulletin board to house these mementos. 

“Rick still has the picture of my mother’s 88th birthday we had there up on the bulletin board,” Lewis said. “I look up there every time I go in.” 

When Horton died, Lewis found herself in Seaboard Cafe to seek familiarity and a sense of community.

“The thing I like most about it is you feel like you’re sitting on your own home patio,” Lewis said. “You feel like you’re comfortable there.” 

Lewis said she tries to limit herself to a maximum of four days at Seaboard’s a week, but it’s hard to stay away from her place of refuge. 

Dining until close

Seaboard Cafe has a plethora of regulars — if it’s not for the food, maybe it’s something about the lack of air conditioning. 

“For 31 years, there’s been no A/C,” said Michael Evans, another Seaboard Cafe regular. “Ambience, that’s the most important.” 

Surrounded by eclectic knickknacks and original paintings from North Carolina artists, Evans frequents the cafe three to four times a week, always on Saturday. Recently, he reconnected with an old friend over Greek and chicken salads at his favorite lunch spot. 

Evans had not seen his former co-worker, Corliss Wilson, in over two years. Time escaped the pair in the cafe as they talked for hours. 

“He’s gotten to know people who come here daily,” Wilson said about Evans. “I would have never come if not for him.”   

For some regulars like Evans, they are guaranteed to see someone they know every time they step foot in the cafe, spending hours catching up. Oftentimes, Evans and his newfound friends are ushered out of the restaurant’s big greenhouse doors when the staff closes up shop — it’s like they never want to leave.

‘Everybody thinks they’re his favorite customer’

When Perales first opened Seaboard Cafe in 1991 in the historic Seaboard Train Station, he did not anticipate his restaurant’s impact. After recovering from alcoholism and sustaining multiple layoffs, Perales thought he would sell hot dogs from a cart.

“All I wanted to do was look people in the eye and make them feel comfortable,” Perales said.  

Now, he greets the majority of his customers by name. 

“Rick loves people and he makes it evident when you come in the door,” Lewis said. “Everybody thinks they’re his favorite customer.”

Perales built a family by making people feel special. He kept his family by making Seaboard Cafe a home.

The news of Logan’s relocation means that Perales and Seaboard Cafe will not be coming with the garden shop. As of now, the land may be used for up to 20 stories of apartment towers and a parking deck. What was once a historic landmark — and a home away from home for many — will be gone in the property’s future establishment.

“Every day is my favorite day over there,” Lewis said. “It’s going to break my heart. They’re taking away our paradise.”

Edited by Macon Porterfield and Kaitlyn Schmidt



Traveling the states: Two BYU ‘Sisters’ spread the message of Christ

By Renata Schmidt

Every woman in the congregation is wearing a dress. A 2-year-old runs down the aisle while her ruffled dress is caught in her diaper. An 80-year-old woman moves slowly through the congregation wearing a straight, light-blue dress over black tights.

Sister Danielle Pace and Sister Sophia Madsen are no different. Their mid-calf floral dresses are styled classically with understated wedges. They are approachable. Elegant, but not intimidating. Clean, but not boring. 

Nobody in the congregation sticks out until Sister Pace ducks out during a prayer and guides Jhania Wilchr in. 

Wilchr is wearing a onesie. It looks like a cow suit, but the graying white hood has yellow horns and the costume has no udders. 

Although the church is known for its conservative views, traditional gender roles and limited caffeine intake, members welcome Wilchr’s version of Sunday best.  

“They’re really happy,” Wilchr said, describing her first impression of the Sisters. “I was really nervous.” 

Wilchr met them after filling out a request on the church’s website to meet with missionaries. Her goal is to be baptized. What transpired in the congregation that Sunday is exactly what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints promises.  

Request a visit from missionaries,” the church website says. “We’ll help you know what to expect at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then we’ll be at the door to greet you and sit with you on Sunday!”

The Sisters

Pace and Madsen are two of the many missionaries the church sends out each year. The church reported it had 53,539 full-time missionaries in 2021. Male missionaries are Elders and female missionaries are Sisters, but their goal is the same: spend up to two years encouraging others to join the church and come closer to Jesus. 

Madsen is from La Grande, Oregon, and is studying to be a speech pathologist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She just celebrated her one-year anniversary of mission life.

Her companion, and fellow missionary, Pace, is a 19-year-old student at BYU from Ventura, California. She’s a surfer when she’s not on the opposite coast wearing long dresses and spreading the church’s message.

Their church is distinguished from other Christian denominations by its emphasis on the Book of Mormon, from which its members get their name. However, Pace said they prefer to be called “Latter-day Saints of Jesus Christ.”

“He’s at the center of everything we do,” she said.

 Paintings and printouts of Jesus cover a wall in their two-bedroom apartment. 

The women share a bedroom as it is an expectation for missionaries to always be in each other’s company for safety. This measure is also to ensure proper behavior. If they are meeting with someone of the opposite gender, they need a fourth person present as well.

They even share a SIM card, which they pass between their phones every few days so they can each take point on communicating with prospective members.

The bulk of their day is made up of heading into public spaces and speaking to strangers about the church and Jesus Christ.

The ‘good stuff’

Pace and her previous companion were strolling in a park when they passed a homeless man with an open wound on his arm.

“Oh, that conversation was actually really funny,” Pace said. “We were walking along the Tobacco Trail behinds Sprouts and he said, ‘Oh, y’all are nuns, aren’t you?’”

After explaining that they were missionaries, Pace discovered that the man, Ryan, had been in a severe accident last month and was scheduled for open-heart surgery in a few days.

As they walked with him, they assured him that God knew him and loved him. They told him about the Godhead: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And then they prayed together.

Madsen and Pace admit that approaching strangers about their faith was strange, at first.

“I like to compare it to Nutella,” Pace said. “I love Nutella. And I could go up to anyone and be like, this is good stuff.” 

“It just kind of dawned on me when I was scared of going up to strangers: this is one of the greatest messages of all time. That Jesus Christ is our Lord, our savior. I’m like, why would I not want to share that?”

While Nutella occupies shelves worldwide, The Church of Latter-day Saints is not universally loved.

The church and its members have been critiqued for their conservative views on controversial topics, like abortion and LGBTQ rights. One of these topics is the traditional gender roles within the church.

According to the church, the priesthood is God’s power and authority, and it can only be held by male members of The Church of Latter-day Saints.

Sisters account for between 20% to 30% of the church’s missionaries, according to BYU. This means that between 10,000 and 16,000 young women spent 2021 promoting a church that does not allow them to become bishops, priests, deacons, or take up any of the roles within the priesthood.

Garth Despain is a member of the church and a spokesperson for the Raleigh, North Carolina mission. The priesthood is less about authority and more a reminder of the need to humble oneself, Despain said.

In his experience, women don’t need the priesthood as much as men. 

“Most women that I know already possess those attributes,” Despain said. “They’re more loving, they’re more nurturing. They don’t need that reminder to act that way, which many men do.”

The restriction does not bother Pace or Madsen, either. They have access to the benefits of the priesthood, like blessings, so they don’t need the positions.

The belief

Pace separates questions within the church into two categories: primary and secondary. There are four primary questions: Is God the heavenly father? Is Jesus Christ the savior of the world? Was Joseph Smith called to be the Prophet? Is the LDS church God’s kingdom on Earth? 

These primary questions are the backbone of the faith and church. Secondary questions involve issues like abortion, the history of the church or the hierarchy within it.

If a person believes the primary questions, the secondary ones become less relevant — Pace and Madsen believe all four statements.

They have received revelations from God which they say have made their testimonies strong.

One of these revelations happened to Madsen when she tried to visit a friend who lived in rural North Carolina. Madsen and her companion drove up a long dirt road, but the light was fading quickly and the house looked empty and unkept. They had barely gotten out of the car before deciding to leave.

“I definitely felt like that was God trying to protect us from something,” Madsen said.

Edited by Brianna Atkinson and Jasmine Baker

Biden’s loan forgiveness plan provides relief for range of students

By: Sara Raja

CHAPEL HILL– Elizabeth Ranatza was having dinner with her mother at Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila Bar when she received a notification on her phone. President Joe Biden announced a new student loan forgiveness plan that would eliminate $10,000 of debt for most borrowers. 

She was relieved, but her mother thinks loan forgiveness is unfair. 

Ranatza, a master’s student at UNC-Chapel Hill, will graduate with about $65,000 in student loan debt. The new legislation means she will have a sizable chunk of her debt forgiven and a cap on how much she has to repay each month. 

Students and graduates across the country felt a similar relief when Biden announced the plan on Aug. 24. Up to 43 million borrowers could get relief, with about 20 million borrowers being eligible to have their full remaining balance canceled, according to a fact sheet from the Biden administration.

46% of graduate and professional students at UNC-CH receiving student aid utilized loans, according to data from the fall 2020 Census Enrollment.

Ranatza has taken out loans every semester of college so far. When she was a first-year student, it seemed like the normal thing to do. She only realized the depth of her debt when she started graduate school and saw how much money she would owe.

“I was like, these are real numbers,” she said. “I have $150 in my bank account. This is not good.”

Ranatza also had to work many jobs to make it through college. She decided to be a resident advisor to avoid the high housing costs in Chapel Hill, but found it time consuming and emotionally taxing. She quit and started working at Wegmans, where she had crazier experiences.

“I had a guy put his arms in the lobster tank, I had people fight, I had people steal, I had people get jumped,” she said. “I had someone give birth while I was working. Their water broke on aisle 14.”

Now, she works at a gymnastics studio and does Instacart on the side to make ends meet.

Ranatza said her parents think it’s unfair for her to receive student loan forgiveness. They argue that because they helped her with living costs when she was a first-year, they believe they’re entitled to some kind of compensation as well. 

Biden’s plan has its fair share of critics. Some people feel loan forgiveness is unfair to those who chose not to go to college or not take out loans. Others who have already paid their student debt feel it’s unfair they missed out on any forgiveness.

But Ranatza doesn’t agree. She said people who have already paid back loans should be happy that the student debt situation is getting better.

To counter her parents, Ranatza pointed out that she feels it’s unfair for her to be paying into social security, when she thinks it’s unlikely she’ll ever see that money again. 

When she found out about the plan, she immediately texted the news to a childhood friend, Nikki Thrower.

Nikki Thrower

Thrower, who graduated with a degree in printmaking from UNC Charlotte in 2021, it was a huge relief. She took out about $11,500 in loans, which means most of her debt will be forgiven.

Like Ranatza, Thrower had to work to get herself through college. She has been a server at Mama Ricotta’s in Charlotte, NC for over three years. Managing school and work was challenging and she wishes she’d had the time to get involved in more extracurricular activities.

“My first semester when I got the bill to pay for tuition, I got so scared that I wasn’t able to afford it,” she said. “I almost dropped out and actually called Elizabeth. She convinced me not to.”

Thrower is pursuing a career in art and said the debt forgiveness has changed her outlook on the future. Instead of making monthly student loan payments, she might be able to move to Charlotte to be closer to art events or even rent an art studio.

Jacob Hester

Jacob Hester is a senior at UNC-CH studying drama and music. He is a Pell Grant recipient, which means he could have up to $20,000 in debt canceled. He has around $11,000 in loans, which will all be forgiven.

Hester knew attending college would only be a possibility for him if he received enough financial aid in grants or scholarships. He worked hard in high school to be the first person in his family to go to a four-year university. 

Though he says UNC-CH wasn’t his first choice, he chose it because of the financial aid he was offered. Although he has most of his tuition and fees covered, he also had to work throughout college.

He dreams of moving to New York City after graduation to pursue music and acting, and loan forgiveness has made those dreams feel possible.

“It gives me more confidence in the idea of being able to move and really take my time with exploring myself and exploring the world and being a new adult in a new place,” he said. 

Looking forward

Hester and Ranatza both said they hope this plan is only a starting point and that debt forgiveness will increase in the coming years. 

Though loan forgiveness will ease the burden of Ranatza’s debt somewhat, her plans for the future are affected by what she will owe. She’s been with her partner for over a year, and they plan to move to Charlotte next year. They have talked about engagement, but paying for a wedding is something they’ll have to put off for a while, she said.

“I have friends who have had extravagant large weddings in the last few years, but I don’t see that being something I’m going to be able to do because I don’t need to add on to any of this,” she said.

Ranatza doesn’t regret her choice to take out loans and have multiple jobs to be able to attend UNC-CH, but she hopes this plan and future legislation will make things easier for the next generation of students.

Edited by: Eric Weir and Monique Williams

‘Two heart surgeries deep’: one UNC student’s journey across the finish line

By Guillermo Molero

Sept. 15, 2022

It’s 11 p.m. on a school night, but Hannah Collett doesn’t care.

The air outside is heavy and humid, but she’s still in her oversized sweatshirt, running around the turf at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hooker Fields. She’s been running down there for an hour, and she’ll keep running for at least one more. 

Hannah’s been preparing to compete in the TCS New York City Marathon this November. But every day, she runs the risk that her heart might stop before she even reaches the starting line.

Hannah started running in the summer before she started high school to get into better shape. When she started, she thought it was awful. But the more she ran, she started to appreciate how awful it was.

And even though she didn’t love running yet, she wanted to get better at it.

One evening that July 2016, she heard her dad telling her mom that he’d just run 4.8 miles. Hannah had never run more than three. Once she heard him say that, she knew she had to run five. 

That same day, Hannah left home at 1 p.m. and started running. She didn’t bring any water. She didn’t tell anyone else where she was going. She didn’t say how long she’d be gone. She just ran. 

“I’m so stubborn,” Hannah said. “It’s just crazy. I’m an all-or-nothing person. Either 100 percent of my effort is going into something or zero percent. And when I’m in it, I’m in it.”

And when it came to running, she was in it. 

Hannah worked her way up to running several miles a day, gradually increasing her stamina throughout high school and upon her arrival to UNC-CH.

She’s often joined on her runs by Spencer Higgins, her girlfriend of one-and-a-half years. Spencer is no fan of running, so she usually tags along for Hannah’s longer treks on her bike, bringing along water and snacks to help replenish her partner’s energy. The two use the time to catch up, talking about their schoolwork or duties as midshipmen in UNC’s Naval ROTC battalion.  

An unexpected challenge

On Oct. 7, 2021, Hannah and Spencer embarked on one of their normal training sessions on Hooker Fields. This time, they were preparing for Hannah’s inaugural marathon in Durham at the end of the month. It was a lighter run than usual for Hannah, Spencer recalled. Suddenly, Hannah stopped in her tracks.

“Catch me,” Hannah said.

Spencer rushed under her and did just that, helping her to the ground. 

“Feel my pulse.”

Her heart was beating quickly — too quickly. It felt more like the heart rate of a rabbit or a baby bird, Spencer said. It didn’t feel human.

The pair weren’t sure what to make of the incident, though, and figured it must have been brought on by fatigue. Hannah decided to keep running, and continued to prepare for the marathon that Halloween. 

She went on to post a respectable time for an amateur, clocking in at just over five hours and eight minutes in her baggy UNC-CH t-shirt. She was the youngest competitor in the field at only 19-years-old, and later found out that she ran the race with a stress fracture in her right foot. 

Hannah’s injury didn’t keep her off her feet for long, with only a few weeks passing before she was able to return to her nightly runs. However, those nights were afflicted with more incidents like the one in early October. After consulting her girlfriend and her parents, Kelly and Rich Collett, Hannah made an appointment to see a cardiologist on her native Long Island, New York. 

Her parents didn’t realize the scope of the problem either, and let Hannah go to her appointment alone; a decision Kelly says they soon came to regret. 

Coping with a diagnosis

Hannah was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a rare condition that develops before birth and causes a faster heart rate. 

She got the phone number of the surgeon that would go on to perform her first surgery that same day, and passed it along to her parents.

“We had no idea how this all worked,” Kelly said. “We didn’t know what it would be or if she was going to be okay. We just didn’t know at that point in time. It was just a very scary little while.”

After her first heart surgery on Jan. 3, 2022, Hannah would get the news that the issue was far worse than doctors had thought. The structure of her heart had been so altered by the disease that the likelihood the syndrome would cause sudden cardiac death jumped from 1-in-200 to 1-in-20. And if that were to happen, there would be no saving her.

Spencer said Hannah usually tells jokes to try and cope with the difficult position her condition has put her in. As a certified EMT, though, Spencer knows how serious the situation really is.

“It’s more like, ‘Don’t let yourself think about it, and keep making jokes.’ It’s a facade,” Spencer said. “But, statistically speaking, running more increases the amount of time your heart beats. And increasing the number of heartbeats increases the likelihood that it’ll just stop.” 

Hannah says she often hears about how well she’s handling the situation, even from doctors. 

But she’s not. 

Hannah says she’s handling it extremely poorly. There are times when she can’t help but think about how she went from finishing a marathon and being in the best shape of her life to being diagnosed with a fatal heart condition. She can’t help but think about how she doesn’t know where she and her heart actually stand after an inconclusive surgery. And she can’t help but think about the chances, slim or not, that she might never see her family or friends again.\

How could she not?

After undergoing another surgery on June 1, doctors still aren’t sure whether her heart has fully recovered. But she isn’t going to let that stop her. She’s been training to race in New York City since her doctors cleared her to run. 

Hannah says she doesn’t want her heart to be the reason she doesn’t run the marathon – she doesn’t want to give her heart the satisfaction. 

“I know I had the heart condition when I ran the last marathon, but it doesn’t feel like that in a way,” Hannah said. “Now, I’m two heart surgeries deep, and I want to cross the finish line of my next 26.2 and prove to everybody — and, I guess, mostly to myself — that I’m OK.” 

When she laces up for one of the world’s most famous races, her parents will be watching from the sidelines. Kelly says it’s been hard not being able to look after her while she’s at school, but they’re excited to be back with their daughter soon. 

And when she crosses the finish line in November, that moment will mean everything. 

Edited by Jane Durden and Mackenzie Frank

‘Feeling lost and free’: Student overcomes adversity to follow passions

By Hannah Kaufman

Laura awoke in pain, as usual. The fluorescent lights were blinding and her right leg felt as if it was being crushed and burned simultaneously. Her curly hair was tangled after the six-hour surgery, and the thin hospital gown offered little warmth. 

With last night’s narcotics still in her system, her eyes were nearly shut, but she could feel the presence of her mom and doctors — their hushed voices a mix of anxiety and anticipation. 

The surgeon checked her incisions and hovered around the area, every light touch causing winces of pain she couldn’t mask. Then came the physical exam. 

“Laura, can you wiggle your toes?” asked the doctor.

She did.

“Can you pump your ankle?”

She did.

“Can you wiggle your toes, Laura?”

Laura was confused. She couldn’t see her legs under the weight of her eyelids, but she had already done what the doctor asked. Right? A deafening silence filled the room. She forced her eyes open and saw the look on her mom’s face. 

The look told her more than any doctor ever could.

At 17 years old, Laura Saavedra Forero had just undergone her third surgery following a hip injury five years ago. Now, what started as a tear in her hip left her paralyzed from the waist down.

Laura’s Injuiry

She was taking a corner kick, something she had done thousands of times, on the day of her injury. Her team was playing on the field near her home in Charlotte. Their opponents were the Wilmington Hammerheads, a familiar foe. 

Laura jogged over to the corner mark, her hair in a high ponytail and her No. 8 jersey tucked neatly into her shorts. As her teammates scattered around the opponent’s box, she carefully placed the ball on the grass. In preparation, she took a step with her left foot, made contact with the ball and lofted it into the box.

The other team intercepted the ball and countered, but something else was wrong.

At first, she refused to go down on one knee. She knew her absence would hurt the team, and to Laura, this team mattered more than anything else. Her coaches relied on her natural leadership skills, and she had an intelligence and understanding of the game far beyond her 12 years of age. 

But soon the pain in her right hip became unbearable, and No. 8 was on the bench. What followed was a series of consultations, physical therapy appointments and MRIs, where most doctors told Laura she was fine to continue playing, regardless of her pain.

Finally, one doctor listened. He told her she had a labral tear and femoroacetabular impingement. This meant her hip bone didn’t fit into her joint properly, causing the surrounding tissue to tear. The only fix was surgery, he insisted.

After nine months of excruciating pain, the Saavedras were just happy to have a plan. The surgery’s typical recovery time was only four to six months, and Laura was already placed on a new soccer team for the upcoming season, excited to return to the field.

The season came and went. Laura, still stuck in recovery, played a total of zero minutes. The surgery had failed.

In 2016 came a second surgery to redo the first — with no success — and psychologists began to replace doctors. She was told the pain was in her head and was sent to a pain rehabilitation clinic in January 2020, where she was forced to walk without crutches, even when her knee buckled with every step.

She came home in February. Her third surgery — a hip capsule and labral reconstruction — was scheduled for August, a few days after her birthday. No one could explain why Laura woke up completely paralyzed from the waist down that morning, but some doctors theorized it was her body’s neurological response from the trauma.

Over the next 11 days in the hospital, she gained a little mobility and sensation back, but her legs were zapped of almost all their strength. She found herself adapting to life in a wheelchair. Her mental health waned as she battled depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Laura needed something new.

She got a tattoo of an anatomical heart with a bouquet of flowers growing out of it — a daffodil, aster, gladiolus and two morning glories — each representing the birth month of one of her family members. She fell in love with activism, experimented with adaptive sports and created her own organization to support immigrants. 

However, her love of soccer still shined through. 

Laura remembers the first time she played soccer when she was about three years old. She was dribbling down the field, sporting an oversized Colombian yellow jersey and blue shorts. As she dribbled, she had a feeling she can only now put into words.

“I felt lost and free at the same time,” said Laura.

She later became the manager of her high school soccer team and subbed in for the first minute of senior night, so she could kick the ball — if only once — during her final game. 

Laura came to UNC-Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain Scholar in 2021 and began navigating life as a gay, Latinx wheelchair user at a campus that wasn’t built for students with disabilities. 

She made lasting friendships and built a community as the manager of the women’s soccer team and co-president of the Campus Y, however, her chronic pain wasn’t going away. Her family began looking out of state to see if there was a doctor who could help. This past summer, a team in New York City finally decided to take a chance on her. 

“It was the first time I felt some sort of sympathy or empathy from a doctor, being like, ‘you don’t deserve to live like this,’” said Laura.

In New York, one weekend before the date of her June surgery, her best friend from Chapel Hill traveled to attend appointments with her while her family was in Colombia. 

Coincidentally, it also happened to be the weekend of the NYC Pride March.

The next day, Laura and a group of friends showed up to the parade covered head to toe in rainbow colors. Most people at NYC Pride jump the fence to get in, but after bribing someone to open the gate so Laura could wheel in, the group accidentally ended up in the middle of the street with the performers.

The seven students screamed and waved at the sea of people as they walked, skipped and wheeled down the colorful street. Someone asked an older couple if they could borrow their 8-foot-tall pride flag, which they handed to Laura.

The crowd went wild.

In that moment, all Laura felt was love pouring out from every glittery face, every waving hand and every stranger at the parade. She pressed all the way down on her speed control and zoomed past her cheering friends. Laura swerved back and forth to greet the crowd, the flag in her left hand swaying in the wind and her tattoo a blur of ink and daffodils.

Feeling lost and free at the same time.

Edited by Chloe Teacher and Madison Ward