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Against all odds – and one eye – Paradise volleyball star ends career on high note

MaryBeth Cook grew up on volleyball – having started since she was 8 years old.

She was a gifted athlete who also played basketball and softball, and even did club volleyball up until high school only to focus on the Paradise Panthers.

Cook entered senior year in August winning District 10-3A Newcomer of the Year and then back to back Setter of the Year awards. But it was at the end of her junior season in 2022 when the unexpected happened.

Paradise had just wrapped up its season with a loss to Boyd – missing the playoffs.

Six days later, on Halloween night, Cook suffered a life-changing injury. While at a friend’s house for a cookout and passing out candy, Cook, family and friends were standing in the driveway when a friend was casually swinging their car keys on a lanyard.

A few seconds later and the lanyard broke, flinging the keys right into Cook’s face. Her left eye swelled up and completely shut immediately. Cook went straight to the hospital where doctors told her the eye was cut almost completely in half.

Doctors spent more than four hours trying to put her eye together, but the vision couldn’t be saved. A week later and her eye was removed. It was a total loss and now Cook has a prosthetic.

“My initial thought was that my eyebrow definitely got split open and that’s where all the blood was coming from. The eye has no pain receptors, so it never once crossed my mind that I could’ve been hit in the eye because I never felt any pain coming from my eye,” Cook said. “But once my mom said she was taking me to the hospital, I figured it was more serious than a busted up eyebrow.

“It wasn’t until we were on our way to the ER that I started to experience serious pain. I had a horrible headache. Not once was I able to open my eyes and that was terrifying. Only being able to hear all the commotion and not being able to see any of it is a whole new kind of scary.

“I remember everything being a blur once we got to the hospital. I remember being scared and telling the doctors not to say anything regarding the condition of my injury because I didn’t want to know what it looked like or what it was. I just wanted it fixed.”

Cook did have the option during surgery.

She could’ve kept her original eye, but she knew the risk involved.

She knew that it would never work again – plus there was a chance her right eye could start going bad and eventually making her completely blind.

“I knew it would never look the same,” Cook said. “That was something I wasn’t willing to risk.”

Cook was discharged from the hospital, but the adjustment period was also difficult. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t open her eyes. She was extremely sensitive to light and sound and continued to have a concussion.

The house remained dark and quiet.

“I was in a dark place because I was scared that’s how my life was going to be and that it was never going to get better,” Cook said.

But things got better when doctors finally removed the eye.

Cook said she felt like a whole new person.

But there were still adjustments to every day life.

“After my surgery everything seemed to come easy. I never felt like it affected my way of life. Obviously there are some things that I struggle with, mainly running into people and things because I have a pretty large blind spot on my left eye,” she said. “I also struggled with balance for a while after my surgery because my vision was shifted I had to relearn my center of gravity.

“The hardest thing for me is driving especially merging or pulling on to the highway. My depth perception was messed up with the incident and so I have a hard time being able to tell how far away cars are.”

Naturally, her return to the court was the biggest obstacle.

Cook said depth perception is her biggest weakness.

But behind supportive coaches, teammates and family, Cook climbed the mountain and finished out her senior season on a high note.

Just before the season came to an end, Cook surpassed 3,000 career assists.

“It wasn’t easy to adjust after the accident. I see the ball completely differently than everyone else. I can’t explain how I see the ball because no one can seem to understand,” she said. “I have a really hard time judging the speed of the ball and how far and close it is in relation to my body.

“However, Setting wasn’t much of a challenge because everything was muscle memory. Thankfully I have an amazing team and coaching staff who is supportive and willing to try anything and everything to make me comfortable on the court.”

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