Cavalier Corner

June 2018

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JUNE 2018 21 "His mom [Kelly] and dad [John] from day one have been very supportive, and without this support system he never would have made it back. "And because of the resources at Virginia I never doubted he would make it back." Considering Marsella was unable to run for three months all the support he received from various corners expedited the rehab process. "My teammates helped me feel I still belonged," he said. "At one point I didn't feel I belonged in school, but they helped me feel that I did. "Coach Watson, ever since he recruited me, thought I could be talented. Even after the brain injury when I was running poorly he continued to support me. Mentally, when I was into racing, he did whatever he could to right the ship. "He knew if I could get through this I would get back to being the person I was when he recruited me." While still in high school, Marsella was recruited by both Duke and North Carolina, and Watson was an assistant track and field coach at the latter. When a similar position opened at Virginia, Watson was hired and Marsella changed directions even though Virginia had not recruited him. "Mike was supposed to come to UNC when I was coaching a UNC," Watson ex- plained. "I think he saw that his development as an athlete and a person was important. "I just think the relationship from day one with the Marsellas and myself was quite unique." Marsella — who earned academic all- state honors, made the honor roll all four years at Chariho and was a National Honor Society member — also faced challenges in the classroom. He was confronted with a problem he wasn't accustomed to — aca- demic probation, due in large part to all of the classes he missed because of his ac- cident. "When I first came out of the coma, I was told I had to leave school," Marsella said. "My dean at the time said, 'Mike can't handle the academic rigors of UVA.' "My parents were shocked by that and pleaded for a second opinion." Enter then-associate dean of students Aaron Laushway. "Dean Laushway stepped in and said, 'We'll let him be a part-time student and proceed from there,'" Marsella recalled. "He advocated for me to get back into the school. "No matter how much everybody be- lieved in me I needed somebody in the school who was tied to admissions and he was able to do that." Watson found it difficult to put into words how much Laushway's help meant to Marsella. "It was huge," the coach said. "It was full- on 100 percent from the university to make sure Mike was in the best situation." Fast forward to the present and Marsella already has a bachelor's degree in sociology and is completing his master's degree from the Curry School of Education. This year, he earned All-ACC Academic honors. The possibility of Marsella attaining this level of academic excellence shortly af- ter the moped accident was the equivalent of the distance between the Earth and the moon. "The academic portion of my return was the driving force at Virginia," Marsella said. "The coaches preach students first and then athletes. Virginia does require student-ath- letes to elevate themselves to another level of academic excellence. "I think the only way I would have healed was if I was thrust back into that situation. I think if I had gone back home I would have rotted. It was either adapt or disintegrate." Adapt, indeed. But as Marsella was quick to admit it was far from easy, especially when it came to any thoughts of running a mile under four minutes. "Shortly after the moped accident I would have felt I could do it," he said. "A year after the accident, I would have doubted myself. As my brain healed I developed severe anxi- ety and fell into this depression. "I did a great job of convincing myself I was okay, but then it almost was like I was lying to myself. I felt bad for myself, but it was at that moment that I realized I may never run faster than I did in high school — never mind four minutes." According to Watson, having 2016 NCAA indoor mile champion Henry Wynne on the team was a major factor in Marsella being able to crack the four-minute barrier. "The timing of having Henry Wynne here as his training partner was important," Wat- son noted. "After the accident they ended up on the same schedule. The two of them became fast friends. Their competitiveness worked well together. "I don't think we adjusted [his training regimen] at all but stayed with the same plan. We got Mike stronger and better. His running 3:57.97 was part of the process for him. "I think if he gets the opportunity to run professionally he can run even faster be- cause he's extremely gifted." Given what Marsella's accomplished physically, mentally and academically speaks volumes about his intestinal fortitude. "I think this shows Mike never quits," Watson said. "He's had adversity and al- ways has overcome it. He doesn't let set- backs hold him down. "He actually thrives on them." Marsella is just the third person in UVA history to clock a sub-four-minute mile, running a 3:57.97 during a 2015 indoor meet at Boston University. PHOTO BY JIM DAVES/COURTESY UVA "The academic portion of my return was the driving force at Virginia. … I think the only way I would have healed was if I was thrust back into that situation. I think if I had gone back home I would have rotted. It was either adapt or disintegrate." MARSELLA

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