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Injuries can't keep Lehi star on sidelines

3-sport athlete Marci Gray loves thrill of competition

LEHI — Triple-threat athletes can be tough to find in the age of year-round club ball and sport-specialization, but Lehi's Marci Gray is a true three-sport phenom.

If you ask her she'll tell you her favorite is volleyball, but it's tough to tell which she's best at as she transfers from volleyball courts to hardwood to diamonds throughout the year. Every one of her coaches will say she's an incredible athlete, someone they'll miss after she graduates at the end of this year.

And she was already missed tremendously by last year's Lehi basketball team as she chose to skip the hoops season because of one of her long strings of injuries — this one probably the worst.

It was the fifth of her five concussions — two of them serious. And it had some long-lasting effects.

Gray was in her sophomore basketball season playing a tough region game at Timpview when she went down hard on the court. She got back up again, walked over to the bench, then collapsed. Soon, the entire crowd went quiet as she was immobilized and the ambulance was called.

"I couldn't remember anything," Gray admitted about that night. But she suffered from headaches and dizziness for over a year afterward. She didn't dare play basketball the next season for that reason, but Gray can be as tough as Muhammad Ali and just as stubborn. So, the ongoing problems didn't keep her from manning the softball diamond in the spring and certainly didn't keep her from her first love, volleyball, in the fall.

She's now been given the all-clear from that injury, but this is one athlete who gets to prove just how tough she can be over and over again.

"She doesn't sit out any games. She just plays through the pain. She is pretty daredevil when it comes to sports," said her mother, Lisa Gray, who added that it can be a little nerve-racking watching her daughter play through injuries. But she doesn't have the heart to stop her because Gray loves sports so much.

"I did draw the line at playing tackle football though," recalls Lisa, who noted that Marci was angry and cried when her mom denied her request to join the boys on the gridiron.

But her other sports have given her quite enough grief over the years. Basketball has provided the many concussions, but softball has furnished many of her other problems.

Gray should be especially leery of stealing bases.

In junior high she broke her pinkie finger diving into third while trying to steal, winding up with two pins in the finger.

During her freshman year, she separated a shoulder stealing second and later dislocated her jaw, also stealing second.

What has she learned from those experiences?

"Don't dive head-first," noted Gray.

She added a broken hand her sophomore year making a diving catch, Achilles tendonitis, a hyper-extended elbow and tendonitis in her knee, and she's currently playing with what her doctor calls a boxer fracture.

She injured her hand against American Fork earlier in the year and wound up with a big lump on the hand. "My doctor was surprised it wasn't broken," she said, but added that after pounding several hits in a match her hand starts hurting, not that that would ever stop her from doing what she does best.

But sports aren't the only things causing Gray difficulties as last season she was driving down the road in Lehi, and a man driving a car the other direction fell asleep and hit her on the passenger side of her car as she swerved to miss him. The diagnosis: whiplash.

Gray, however, rarely considers missing a practice let alone a game. So, barring another concussion, she plans to play through all three of her sports this year, giving each of her teams a boost of energy and leadership along the way.

Her first sport was softball, which she started playing along with baseball when she was just a kid. She gave up baseball in the seventh grade, but she's so versatile on the softball diamond that she plays first base, shortstop and outfield for one of the top teams in the state.

"I like getting grounders, but I hate pop flies, cause they give you too much time to think about it," Gray noted. Her softball coach, Leslee Warr, added that though she prefers first base, she'll probably play mostly at shortstop because of her good arm.

But when the lefty started playing volleyball in the seventh grade for current Lehi coach Jamie Ingersoll, she found just what she loved the most.

"It has more intensity than the others. You're involved in every play. You touch the ball almost every time. It challenges me more," Gray said, adding, "I've got a lot to improve on: hitting, blocking, staying in the game every point."

But her favorite part of volleyball can also be the most amazing to watch; it's also what people around the valley have been in awe of since she burst onto the volleyball scene a couple of years ago: the dig.

"I love to dig. I love to get the pancake," Gray said. And people love to watch her do just that. She's a huge reason Lehi volleyball is known for its defense. It's tough to get a ball down because Gray is always there, and she always comes up with something spectacular.

She can come up with some pretty sensational plays on the hardwood, too, as she notes her favorite part of hoops is "the give and go, the pick and roll."

She rolled out onto the football field last year as part of the homecoming royalty, something that proved a shock to her mom, who said Marci was a tomboy until the eighth grade. Lisa also noted that her daughter puts so much energy into everything she does that occasionally Marci will, "run run run so much she can fall asleep anywhere."

On tires, outside, on her computer, for example. "She just wears herself out."

But perhaps the one thing Gray has enjoyed doing more than any other this year has little to do with sports.

She's a part of Local Heroes, which is run by the administration and coaches at the junior highs in the area. Athletes and students with good grade point averages go out and read to kids once a month. And Gray thoroughly enjoys it.

But she also enjoys putting everything on the line for her team while sometimes suffering the slings and arrows of misfortune such intensity brings.