GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The UNCG volleyball team had the best start to a season in school history after holding a 14-3 record.
A large part of that is due to junior setter Gabby McHugh – who reached 2,000 career assists and has been Southern Conference setter of the week twice this season.
“She has a very big influence on our team,” head coach Corey Carlin emphasized. “Her voice carries a lot of weight because she can back it up with her fight and her determination.”
But just two years ago – she didn’t know if she would ever step foot on a court again.
June 4, 2019.
“It was actually my wife and I’s wedding anniversary,” Gabby’s dad, Kevin laughed. “I’ll always remember it for that.”
Just five days before her high school graduation, Gabby was at a senior bonfire when her whole life changed.
“A log had just rolled off the fire and obviously I’m not afraid of fire,” she remembered. “I was like oh, let me just move this log back in the fire.”
That log hit a pressurized bottle of lighter fluid.
“It exploded, she explained. “Flames went up.”
Everything went from normal to all her friends screaming in an instant.
“Stop! Roll! Stop! Roll!” she remembered them saying.
She couldn’t even process that she was on fire.
“I was rolling on the ground. It felt like forever,” she recalled. “When the flames had finally gone out, I’m just laying on the ground and I’m in complete shock.”
Her only focus was on her right leg, arm, and hand.
“It just hurts,” she said. “The worst pain imaginable.”
The realization of what had happened started to set in when she saw her parents at the hospital.
“When we first saw her, we didn’t realize the extent until we actually got in and saw the burns in the light,” her dad remembered. “They were pretty severe.”
“From around here all the way up was completely burned,” Gabby said pointing to her elbow and moving up to her hand. “I was wearing a hair tie that day so I have one ring of normal unburnt skin on my wrist.”
While at the hospital, the doctors were unsure of what her future for volleyball looked like.
“I’m a setter. Nerve damage in my hand – that freaked me out,” she explained.
But quitting simply isn’t an option for Gabby.
“Once she started going through the treatments and working on it, I could tell she was going to bounce back from this,” her dad mentioned.
“Rehab for that was – I don’t know. I’m going to say close to as painful as being burned alive,” Gabby emphasized.
Gabby fought all the way back to being able to play her freshman year just a few months later.
“I didn’t think it was ever a question of would this derail her or would she give up,” Coach Carlin explained. “I knew it was going to be a challenge and she knew it as well, but she responded like she always does.”
“Things happen in life and you can either run from traumatic experiences or you can face them and be like okay, this happened, but I’m moving past it,” Gabby added. “That’s basically what I did.”
And what she’s still doing – defying expectations with every hit.
“There have been moments where I’m like wow, maybe this is a sign that I shouldn’t keep playing,” she laughed. “Then I keep playing and I’m like you know what, those are just bad thoughts. Keep going. Keep going.”