GLADIATHER GRADS: SYDNEY SATCHELL, AMPUTEE & INSPIRATION
It’s not everyday that you meet women who change your life. I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to do just that. Sydney Satchell has gone from being a Division-I athlete to an amputee and an inspiration for so many in a relatively short amount of time. She has found the strength, courage and wisdom to turn her adversity into life lessons for so many. I’m honored to share this GladiatHer® Grads story with you.
Where’d you go to school and what sport did you play?
I went to Howard University (Go Bison!) and I played lacrosse. It was a wonderful and unique experience. Lacrosse is a traditionally white sport, so it was such a great experience to have the opportunity to play with brown girls who could play the sport and play it well. I had never experienced that before.
Beyond playing lacrosse, you were very active in college. Tell our readers about what else you did.
I’ve always been an involved student. My freshman year after losing a bid for student-government, got involved in the Freshman Leadership Academy at Howard. It teaches new leaders how to manage budgets, run meetings and how to significantly effect change through relationships. It helped me understand how colleges operate.
I was also served as chaplain in the National Council of Negro Women. In the Spring of 2013 I joined the wonderful sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Inc. Finally, I ran the only spirit group on campus. We attended every basketball, football and volleyball home game. It allowed me to connect with and support other student-athletes.
How did you find time for it all?
As a student-athlete you learn to create time. You have to make time for fun. My fun was supporting fellow athletes. Organizing our spirit group took a lot of work but it was fun. It also helped that I was around a lot driven people who motivated me. My days were very organized. I was very intentional about how I spent my time. If I was going to be a good leader, a good chaplain, a good friend, I had to make time and make sure I got my work done first. Time management and organization was so crucial.
What do you do now professionally?
I work at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, MA. I work in the learning center with students who need assistance with reading, writing and reading comprehension. I am also the Director of Student Activities, an assistant coach for our Varsity Girls soccer and lacrosse teams, an advisor and a watchful eye/mentor for our students of color.
Clearly your ability to be well-rounded and involved hasn’t stopped. Let’s fast forward to 2015. Tell us about your car accident.
First, I would like to say that I am a God-fearing woman. I believe in Jesus Christ. My faith, my experience as an athlete and the support of family and friends is really how I can have a joyful spirit and attitude about my current situation.
The accident happened on January 15, 2015. The day before I was running the radio show at Berkshire. At the end of the show, something led me to say “God is about to do something big, amazing, out of this world, and I can’t wait for you all to see.” Less than 24 hours later, ice and a tree changed my life.
I was driving on a narrow road. I hit some ice, slide and hit a tree. My left-side tire was under my steering wheel, pinning my left leg between the tire and the left side door. I knew I was ok, but it took first responders about 20 minutes to turn off my engine, another 20 minutes to get me out of the car and another 40 minutes to get me to the hospital. They had to use the Jaws of Life to remove me. I sustained a fractured nose, a concussion and I broke my left leg in three places.
It’s amazing you survived. What was recovery like?
A couple of days into my recovery I had reconstructive surgery on my leg. I was later diagnosed with compartment syndrome. It’s basically when there’s too much pressure on the leg and it causes your muscles to atrophy because they can’t get the oxygen they need. I had 2 or 3 more surgeries to try to remove the dead tissue and muscle. Then I went to a larger hospital to remove more tissue and muscle. I finally asked, what’s going on? I can be very positive, sometimes to a fault, but I had to pause and say, “Where are we going with this?”
Finally doctors told me I had lost the muscle and ability to move my foot. I would never walk again. The nerve and muscle damage I had was so extensive that they recommended amputation. If I didn’t, I would basically have drop foot. I would walk with a limp, never run again and have back issues.
It took me about 7 days of significant prayer to decide that amputation was the way to go. It was a mourning process but I got through.
How was that transition?
I came out of the accident with eight surgeries, an amputation, an awesome spirit and a new zest for life. Someone asked would I do it all again the same way. My answer is yes. I have days where it is absolutely physically and mentally painful to know that I have to wear a prosthetic. But with my new disability, I have found some great new athletic things to do and a new ability to share my experience with people who are hurting physically or mentally. Going through something so life-changing and still having such a positive outlook has been amazing. I definitely wouldn’t change a thing.
You’re the epitome of trusting God and believing everything happens for a reason. What are you up to these days?
Since the accident I have done some public speaking. Everyone goes through tough times. I really struggled with the decision to amputate. I never saw myself as an amputee or knew anyone to endure anything as medically intense as an amputation. So I’ve been doing my best to inspire people around me who have had to make tough decisions or are going through tough times.
I have been learning to run again with the help of the Hanger Clinic. They were gracious enough to provide a custom prosthetic foot and leg. The biggest thing has been that I have gotten into the Paralymic sport, sitting volleyball. I am on a co-ed, developmental team called A2. We meet several times a month in Oklahoma for training camp.
How did you get into that?
God is awesome because I never played volleyball, but fell in love as a fan at Howard. In His sovereign, all-knowing power He introduced me to, planted a seed for, the game of volleyball and I didn’t even know it. One of the VPs at the Hanger Clinic strongly recommended I get into sitting volleyball. I never considered playing sports again but some months after my amputation, I go bored. I realized I still had this desire to physically compete. So in February 2016, I went to training camp to see if it was a fit and I absolutely loved it. It’s a brand new challenge for me. Seeing and knowing some of the women who were a part of this year’s gold medal winning Paralympic team has been inspiring. So I have dug my heels into sitting volleyball. I want to see where it takes me.
Yeah I can’t imagine someone like you not being physically active. What’s next for Sydney?
Volleyball and the accident have been the motivation for starting SydneySatchell.com. I want to encourage people and garner support for my dream of one day being a Paralympian in sitting volleyball. I’m trying to raise about $15,000 to support my sitting volleyball dreams. I have a fantastic personal trainer and will be working with some national volleyball coaches. It’s a labor of love but it costs money.
My message is that each step in your life is significant. To drive home the point, we created the term Sydnificant because I’ve learned first-hand that even in the tough times there’s always something to celebrate. Even if you can’t pay rent and your mom has cancer, there is still something significant going on in our lives worthy of celebration. I encourage people to really embrace those tough times because even in those moments, good, significant things are happening. Everyone’s life is significant. God loves us and we should celebrate every part of our journeys. Sydnificant is really a charge to be introspective and say you and all the moments in your life are important.
Preach, Sydney! You really are an amazing inspiration. How can people keep up with you beyond going to SydneySatchell.com?
Thank you so much for sharing your story. Listen folks, if Sydney hasn’t inspired you to do more in and embrace every second of life, I honestly don’t know what will. She is a true testament of the value of faith, perseverance and choosing to live a positive life. I honestly don’t know what I would do if faced with amputation, but it sure is comforting to know that there are women out there who have literally overcome everything. Please follow Sydney on social media and consider supporting her dreams to continue her athletic prowess and one day represent America as a Paralympian.