Furlin defies odds, sets a new standard for setbacks


Justin Brown

Redshirt Freshman Gina Fuller serves the ball during a match against Bulter on Tuesday. Eastern lost the match 3-2.

Maria Baldwin, Features Reporter

To many athletes, having a setback can allow them to grow and become a stronger and versatile athlete.

For Gina Furlin, a redshirt freshman on the volleyball team, her setback caused her to completely reinvent the way she played on the volleyball court, and was almost fatal.

Furlin redshirted her freshman year at Eastern after doctors discovered a blood clot in a vein between her collarbone with first rib getting crushed.

“Nobody knew what it was at first,” Furlin said. “(The doctors) tested me for all different types of cancers, trying to figure out why I had this blood clot so young. This one surgeon called one day and told me that he heard about my case and told me that he needed to take my rib out as soon as possible.”

The doctor told Furlin to trust him and that he knew what needed to be done, she said.

The first surgery Furlin underwent was a 24-hour procedure to destroy the blood clot.

“A weekend went by, because I had to heal before the next surgery when they would take out the rib, and the doctor told me that if they had waited one more day, my vein would’ve been pinched completely to the point where it would’ve broken and blood clots would have spread everywhere,” Furlin said.

Furlin said before the surgery she noticed a numbness that ran down her arm, not a good sign for a volleyball player who specializes in setting the ball at different heights for her teammates.

“When I would go to set the ball I couldn’t feel it touching my hands,” Furlin said. “I redshirted for that reason, and my surgeon told me I would never be able to play volleyball again, unless I got this procedure done. He told me that there was a 5 percent chance that I would be able to play again if the procedure worked.”

The procedure worked, and with many grueling and painful hours of rehab, Furlin would be able to play again.

“I could feel that it was different once I started setting again,” Furlin said. “Everything I had done before was changed and I could feel that I wasn’t as good as I used to be. It made me work that much harder because I wanted to get back to the way I was and even better than before.”

Easter volleyball coach Sam Wolinski just wanted Furlin to get her confidence back, and found a therapist in Charleston that did just that.

After Furlin found her confidence, it was all work for there, with dedication to getting her back in shape to play.

Like in all situations, communication was key for Furlin and Wolinski.

“(After therapy) then it was a matter of managing her reps out on the court and Gina feeling comfortable enough to tell us when she needed to take a break from activity due to her pain level. Then we needed to keep giving her feedback and building up her confidence to get back to the level she was accustomed too,” Wolinski said.

Through it all, the Eastern volleyball coaches were by her side, ready to help Furlin get her technique and strength back, despite her not having a rib on one side of her body.

“The EIU coaches have been coaching me to reteach my arm how to work properly without a rib,” Furlin said. “Doing the same things I used to do, just differently. They had me do a lot of ball handling, they had me set with a basketball so that I could get my strength back.”

Now, a year and a half since her last surgery, the therapist had answers to Furlin’s condition, and why she had a blood clot so young.

“I go back home and work with someone to improve my posture,” Furlin said. “They think my posture is the main reason this is happening to me, because of the way my upper body is built. When I would lift my arms up in the air, the vein would pinch.”

With the strength back in her arm, Furlin is now playing on the court for Eastern, and Wolinski said she is proud of the progress Furlin has made.

“Her progress has been amazing and all of us were so excited to celebrate when we she was back on the court officially playing last weekend,” Wolinski said. “This has been a long ordeal for her and she has been so dedicated to getting back on the court and to her teammates and what we are working to accomplish on and off the court as well.”

Furlin has put up 13 assists, two kills, and seven digs in just one week for Eastern, but believes she has the potential for more.

“I just want to improve my game back to where it used to be. I just want to get back to feeling the way I did before the surgery.” Furlin said. “But just being out there was one of my goals so I’m happy that I have accomplished that so far. My parents were so excited that I was out there, warming up for the game, because I was able to touch a ball during warm-ups because it was such a big step for me.”

While it’s very rare that she is playing like she is for the Panthers, Furlin said she believes that she didn’t think it was possible to be where she is today on the court after hearing about her condition.

“At first I was worried about my volleyball career and if I would ever be able to play again, and then once it started being about my life I was like, OK I just need to worry about my health first and then everything will fall into place once I’m okay,” Furlin said.

Furlin said she is relieved that everything went the way that it did, and that while she is hard on herself, she understands her circumstances and is just happy to be out again and playing with her teammates, setting them up for kills.

“I love being able to set up others for success,” Furlin said. “I love seeing my teammates do awesome. When I give them a good set and I know they can hit it hard and get a point off of it, that makes me so excited.”

The Eastern volleyball team will head to the Memphis Tournament this weekend. The Panthers will face Louisiana Tech in the opening round of the tournament.

Maria Baldwin can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]