Why do we love sports? What is it about competition that inspires us? The field of athletic competition allows us to see the best in ourselves and have hope that, regardless of obstacle, we can achieve our highest goals. Year after year, Hollywood creates movies from stories highlighting the incredible achievements of people and teams surrounding sports. Stories like Rudy, Hoosiers, Miracle, Remember the Titans, Unbroken, The Blindside, and Seabiscuit are just a few of the stories that draw us in and inspire us to keep going. For High School athletes, sports stories like these also encourage them to write their own.
Mary Philpot, a sophomore at CCES, is currently writing her story. Philpot, who has been a passionate tennis player since she was very young, has had to overcome tremendous adversity in her short time in high school, and it has taken her down a road that she never expected she would traverse.
Mary started her tennis career under the direction of Ryan Haviland
, owner and coach with Haviland Tennis Academy
. She trained and attended camps & clinics at Greenville Country Club, Furman University, and Thornblade Club, and has been a high-level, year-round tournament tennis player since she was 10 years old. Her natural talent, work ethic, and competitive spirit to be her best allowed Mary to quickly find success with tennis. Mary competed as a singles line player since 7th grade for CCES Varsity Tennis
, and has earned three Upper State championships and two State Championships in her time as a Cavalier.
During the Summer of 2017, Mary experienced one of her first major setbacks in her young tennis career. While playing in a tournament final at Greenville Country Club, she felt some serious pain in her hitting arm. After the tournament, she was diagnosed with a moderate shoulder injury and spent the subsequent seven months rehabilitating her injury in an effort to get back to competition. When she got back to full speed, Mary began tournament play again.
However, after only 3 tournaments, Mary completely blew out her shoulder. This time, Mary was given an ultimatum by her doctors: take 10-12 months off, or risk career-ending injury. Mary says, “to be honest, this is not my first health set back, but it always hits you in the gut especially when your eyes are more focused on playing at a collegiate level.”
Mary had to make the difficult decision to preserve her health and set the racket down so she could heal. Mary adds, “being told you are unable to do something that you absolutely love and are talented in is heartbreaking. You can have all the support from family and friends to help, but in the end, it was up to me to realize I still have potential - it was just going to be in a different sport.”
While her tennis injury has temporarily closed one door for Mary, she remained determined that other doors would open for her. Mary’s mindset is to be her best, and she was not going to let this injury slow her down - quite the opposite, actually. After getting to know Middle School Chaplain and Head Girls Cross Country Coach John Mark Elliott
in his Freshman Biblical Studies class during the 2017-2018 school year, Mary decided to run through a new doorway and joined the Girls Cross Country team
. Mary says, “I never really loved running; it was always sort of a punishment in other sports, but I am really competitive natured, and I wanted to try something new, get my mind off of it [the injury], and compete for CCES.”
Coach Elliott says, “Mary's transition from tennis to XC was not a part of the plan, but she has transformed an injury and potential tragedy into a new challenge and a potential success story. Honestly, I think Mary has already been a success. Her injured shoulder has helped strengthen an XC team who has and will continue to flourish because of her speed and charisma.”
New Psychology teacher and Assistant Girls Cross Country Coach, Maggie Bussey who ran cross country and track in college for Division III powerhouse, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, has developed a strong relationship with Mary and has been impressed by her competitiveness and work ethic. Coach Bussey says, “Mary is a natural competitor - she has the internal drive to push herself to her limits both at practice and meets. Her determination is contagious and makes her teammates want to be better runners from her example.”
Mary expressed how much she enjoys being coached. Whether in the classroom or in athletic competition, she actively pursues her best. Mary says, “I like being coached, and being able to better myself, so I can be more competitive.” Coach Bussey adds, “Mary is such a coachable athlete -- everything you tell her to do she executes with a smile on her face. She continually strives to learn more about a sport that she only stumbled into weeks ago and is already mastering!”
In her first race at the state course in Columbia, Mary was really nervous at the beginning of the race. She describes how she started out a little slow, but at the end of the race, she was able to put her competitiveness on display. As she was on the final stretch and finishing the race in the middle of the pack, there was a group of ten girls in front of her. As he observed what was happening, coach Elliot yelled, “Pass them!” Mary says, “I didn’t think I could do it because I was pretty tired; it was kind of painful, but I saw them and was like ‘Okay, I’ll get them,’ and I passed them.” A great victory for someone coming off a major injury and being brand new to the sport.
Mary continues to make tremendous progress as a runner. From struggling to run a mile earlier in the summer to beating her personal goals with each practice, she is excited about how much she’s grown. Hailey Sanders, Cross Country Co-Captain and Student Body President for CCES, states, “with it being her first time running cross country, Mary has had an extremely impressive transition as she has earned her spot as a top runner through her hard work at practice. Even as a new member of the team, Mary carries herself as an experienced athlete whose positive attitude motivates those around her!”
Sports present opportunities to teach life lessons. Learning to overcome adversity and continue to grow is arguably one of the most important lessons for young people to learn. Through it all: a major injury, rehabilitation, and a new sport, Mary continues to write her story. Mary closes, “opportunity doesn’t always find you. I am realizing sometimes you have to seek out new opportunities and work hard to be successful at them. With this hard work I have found great new friendship, support, and a new Cross Country family! Mostly, I have found a renewed passion for sports and being thankful for the health you have!”
We are all looking forward to watching Mary’s story unfold and seeing her compete wherever she is over the next 3 years. Go Cavs!