DURHAM, N.C. - Teddi Jo Maslowski did not face a bunch of adversity while running track at Steubenville Catholic Central.
The person who went to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, competed in 15 events and stood on the podium 15 times, seven of those on the top step, found life to be different when she stepped on the campus of Duke University.
Teddi Jo Maslowski
Photo courtesy Duke Athletic Department
Although she knew her life was about to change, she never envisioned the rollercoaster ride she's been on.
"It has been tough to not look back and see where I could've gotten better and the times where I missed out on training and gaining experience in competing, but in the long run I truly appreciate the ups and downs," she said. "I wouldn't say I am a 'fan' of rollercoasters, but rather that I've learned to look back and gain appreciation for when I'm not injured.
"So, when I feel good I train harder and more focused than I would've had I not been through rough times because now I realize how lucky I am to have stretches when I'm not injured or sick. The 'good times,' or 'ups,' are higher in value to me now and makes practicing when I'm healthy that much more motivating and exciting.
"It's kind of similar to the phrase 'you can't have happy without sad,' and by that I mean that I couldn't fully appreciate and utilize training when I'm healthy the same as I would if I didn't have periods of horrible training or no training at all due to injuries. It's a good contrast and allows me to never take an injury-free training day for granted.
"I am totally thankful for the outlook I have gained through the rollercoaster years, although it is hard to not look back and see how many days of 'getting better' I have missed. I just try to focus on the present and future instead."
It's not like Maslowski had a terrible freshman year in Durham.
She finished ninth in the pentathlon with 3,373 points at her first conference championship indoors. Her best finishes of the meet came in the 60 meter hurdles, as she took seventh in a time of 9.08, and the long jump, where she earned a mark of 17-0.
In the outdoor season, she earned fourth place in the heptathlon at the ACC Championships with 4,873 points, placing her third on Duke's all-time list. She ran a time of 14.45 in the 100 hurdles to earn a fifth-place spot on Duke's all-time list and also ran the 400 hurdles three times during the season and placed 18th at the Penn Relays in the event with a time of 1:01.38, earning the second slot on Duke's all-time list.
"It's nearly impossible to characterize my freshman year at Duke without incorporating the effect injuries had on it," said Maslowski. "I went from having mono and strep throat three times to two ankle injuries to a knee injury. They were all spaced perfectly so that as soon as I got in shape and began serious event work, I would somehow get a twist-of-fate injury and fall behind.
"Looking at the year as a whole, it seems that I would be totally displeased because I didn't PR in anything - in fact I was much worse than in high-school. My events were sloppier than ever, and I never ran a race feeling in shape. However, if I incorporate the massive and incredible transition into the Duke lifestyle along with the injuries I had, I would say I was actually pleased.
"Everyone falls behind freshman year as they change their form and tweak technique, and I don't think I fell behind more than anyone else normally does on top of having serious injuries. My mindset is the only part of track that I wish I could've changed. I wasn't having as much fun with it as I did in high school, and I was putting too much pressure on academics and track.
"I was focusing on each injury and each bad grade I was receiving instead of enjoying daily practices and classes. It almost felt like I was forcing myself through everything to prove to myself I could do it and overcome the injuries and late night study sessions instead of going through my days because I am passionate about learning and training.
"I lost sight of why I chose Duke, which is sad to think about now. I was blindly caught up in the whirlwind of life and stress here."
Unfortunately for Maslowski, it got worse on Dec. 4, 2012.
"I was on the last hurdle of the workout right before finals week," she recalled. "We were doing hurdle tempo and I was working on snapping my lead leg down. I was tired from the 200s we had done earlier and I brought it down just a fraction of a second too soon, and so I was behind the hurdle when my ankle was below the bar.
"Because I was moving extremely quickly, my weight was thrown on top of the hurdle and as I was using my hands to push it down and away (like we normally do), but my hands became trapped under my weight and the hurdle became my pivot point. Well, I took the full impact on my left temple when I hit the ground.
"I didn't slide or bump or anything - my temple bought my entire momentum to an immediate stop. My symptoms progressed from an average concussion to severe when I tried to study for finals and finish out the semester. I lost some of my ability to talk and to use my eyes.
"I was nauseated for weeks because my balance was terrible, and I had no spatial or depth perception. I was miscalculating the distance of eating utensils, pens, my keys, walls, even in lifting - I was cleaning the bar and hit myself in the middle of the face because I was so unaware.
"That, in combination with receiving a 15 percent on my organic chemistry test - I had been doing very well previous to the concussion - pretty much clarified that I couldn't continue with school if I wanted good grades for medical school and to fully recover.
"I saw four neurologists for their opinions and all of them told me, without a doubt, to take a break."
So, not only was Maslowski out of track, she was out of Duke.
"I had never had such little control over my life at that point," she said. "I was exhausted from everything that came with the concussion and then to have everything that I've ever lived for and focused on taken away from me in a matter of days - it was horrible. I couldn't deal with it very well for a long time.
"First I was shocked and in disbelief, and I mean utter disbelief. I refused to acknowledge their opinion or that someone was telling me I couldn't do something I loved. I became like a hollow zombie or shell pretty quickly. I didn't want to see or talk to anybody because there was no way I could convey how I felt about it - both because the concussion affected my vocabulary and also because there are no words for it.
"I kept thinking it wasn't real life and that it couldn't have happened to me. I went through the normal 'I don't deserve it, why me, this is the worst thing in the world' phase, and then I started to realize how much that was adding to my condition. I couldn't change the fact that I got a concussion, so I started looking at how I could adapt to it.
"As soon as I remembered I had other hobbies, interests and activities that I loved, it completely turned around. I basically had neglected my 'life' other than track and school. Again, it was hard to find things that didn't require a lot of physical work or brain work being that my favorite hobbies are hiking, running, cooking and reading.
"I couldn't watch documentaries like I normally do because the screen motion would set off the nausea. I didn't have enough eye control to read, and cooking was too mentally exhausting. It was a challenge, but I started to have fun in finding things I could do without worsening my symptoms.
"Being upset about the concussion and the medical leave lasted about one month and it was longest month of my life."
But, finally being over the shock of being out of track and school didn't lessen the fact that she was out of track and school.
"A good metaphor for it would be if you were to imagine someone giving you a task to solve a puzzle and it was your life goal to solve it and nothing else mattered to you more than solving it to the point that you were consumed by it and planned your life around it," Maslowski said.
"Then, one day someone walks up to you and says 'never mind,' do something else, takes the puzzle, and walks away. That's about the best way I can describe it.
"My Duke, premed, track life was taken away from me in an instant and it's the only thing I had ever known - the only thing I cared about. I didn't like waking up and not having an intense, full day of work and training ahead of me, or not going to bed totally exhausted. It was a big change."
With all of that, Maslowski considers the time off a blessing.
"Yes. Capital letters, exclamation point included," she said. "I am so much better off at balancing stress and acknowledging things that I have no control over. It definitely helped with the mental aspect of the heptathlon, too. Sometimes we have events in our life that just don't go our way and the best thing to do in that situation is make the best of it and move on to the next.
"I had a ton of great experiences - training dogs with a rescue program, baby sitting five days a week and adventuring throughout Carolina - while I was recovering, and not many people in college are lucky enough to have a semester to do that. I still had all my track and academics waiting for me, too. I was blessed."
But, she admits, not at first. Questions ran throughout her life and she had no answers.
"When I first had the concussion I never thought I'd be able to return to college, then I never thought I could continue being premed, then I thought I wouldn't go back to Duke, then I thought maybe I couldn't handle all the stress anymore," Maslowski admitted. "So, so many doubts were filling my head with what I was hearing from neurologists and concussion specialists. Five months later I was nearly 100 percent again, but I still had to go through the re-admission process.
"I don't think I could describe how utterly frustrating it was to deal with the committees. Although I asked numerous times, there was no improvement in communication with me. I could go on for minutes, but the details are unnecessary. All in all, they re-accepted me the day before classes started so I missed out on being in classes that would let me fulfill my premed credits and be at lifts and practices.
"Now my other semesters are filled with harder classes that had to be moved out of that one and I had to lift apart from my team, too. I could say a lot more about the experience, but it was totally negative so I try to keep it behind me."
With all of that behind her, she was ready to get back into life as a college student and athlete.
"I counted down the days until I would jump back into the rushing days and weeks of school life here," said the redshirt sophomore. "I swore I would never complain about being sore from track or burned out from studying. You don't realize the importance of having a certain type of schedule filled with things you enjoy and are accustomed to until you lose that lifestyle.
"Being back on the turf fields under the scorching sun and sitting in the library until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. isn't a struggle for me anymore since the concussion semester. Sure I'm tired and sometimes lose a tiny bit of my motivation for the day, but I have never once stopped and wished I could have a break or be somewhere else during those times.
"I love being back. Everything about it."