Not even a stroke can deter this Hawk.

A huge smile paints sophomore Avery Marz’s face as she strolls across the Hagan Arena court in her Hawks’ practice uniform. The 5'7" guard exudes confidence as she high-fives assistant coach John Hampton and receives a pat on the back from teammate Kathleen Fitzpatrick ’17. 

Marz, a Reading, Pennsylvania, native, is a sports marketing and communication studies major. Long before her college search began, Saint Joseph’s was the first school to express interest in the point guard from All-State Wilson West Lawn High School.  

“It’s a loyalty thing,” says Marz, describing her college choice. “St. Joe’s was the first school that saw my potential.”  

She couldn’t have known that one summer day on Hawk Hill her life would change dramatically.   

On August 23, 2014, after six weeks of workouts with the team, Marz was putting the finishing touches on her dorm room with her mother, Mary Beth Schoellkopf. Without warning, Marz felt her knee give out and she collapsed, losing feeling throughout the left side of her body.  

Paramedics rushed Marz to nearby Lankenau Hospital where she was treated for an arterial ischemic stroke, caused by an obstruction of a blood vessel leading to the brain. The stroke damaged a key relay center of her brain that controls strength and movement.  

Once stabilized, Marz was transferred to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). After nearly a week under the care of pediatric stroke experts, Marz was moved to a rehabilitation facility, and by mid-September, she returned home to continue outpatient stroke rehabilitation. 

Marz took a medical leave from SJU for the fall semester and returned to campus in January 2015. Intensive physical therapy helped her regain much of her strength and mobility, but she was far from live action on the court.  

“I was always good at basketball and had my life set out for me, and then this happened,” she says. “I had to rethink my self-identity. My confidence took a hit.” 

In the weeks following her stroke, Marz says she continuously asked, “Why me? Why did this happen?”  

Now, nearly two years later and filled with renewed energy, the stroke survivor has a different outlook and posits, “Why not me? Why can’t I make something of this and use my experience to help other people?” 

Marz still struggles with some deficiencies in coordination on her left side, and trying to overcome them will be her next challenge, says SJU women’s basketball head coach Cindy Griffin ’91 (B.S.), ’93 (MBA). 

“The recovery process with a stroke is a little bit unknown because we don’t have much experience with people returning to play at the level that Avery wants to reach,” says Griffin. “But if it’s a matter of attitude and will, she’s got it.” 

Today, two tattoos decorate Marz’s body to remind her of the incident and her journey toward recovery. The first, behind her left shoulder, is simply the date of her stroke: 8.23.14. 

“Even though it is with me every day, it is behind me,” she says of both her stroke and the tattoo.

Marz’s second tattoo, located atop the right side of her ribs and illuminated in her mother’s handwriting, reads: “This, too,
shall pass.”

Marz attributes much of her recovery to her mother.

“I definitely had moments when I thought, ‘Today is a bad day, and is this going to pass?’” Marz says. “My mom and I would talk about how today may be a bad day, but let’s not make it a bad week. Let’s take this day by day. 

“She saw me at my worst. This journey has been much harder mentally than physically. My strong relationship with my mom and her love makes the tough days better.” 

Marz completed physical therapy this past summer and participated in individual workouts and noncontact team drills for the Hawks in the spring semester. As she eases her way back toward full-court live play, she is also working to regain her confidence. 

“I went from being really good at something — where I felt like I could play with my eyes closed — to not being able to do it at all,” says Marz. “Throughout this recovery process, I need to take that step out of my comfort zone. I may mess up three out of five times, but those other two times make it worthwhile.”  

As for her future with the women’s basketball team, Coach Griffin hopes “she’s going to be the miracle that fights through.” 

Marz, who redshirted her freshman and sophomore year, has four more years of eligibility. She hopes to play in the upcoming season. 

 

Sarah Panetta, a double major in English and communication studies, was an intern for the SJU Office of University Communications this past year.