23ABC The power of sports: keeping the faith through distance

Posted at 9:48 PM, Jun 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 00:49:29-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Faith Bender knows a lot about creating distance - she’s used to throwing objects pretty far, becoming one of the top throwers in the nation.

One thing she wasn’t used to was the distance she would have to put between her and her sport.

“And towards the end of the workout, it wasn't like a freak injury where it just happened automatically like in football or something, just kind of happened over time,” she said.

At the end of 2019, Faith realized her spine was fractured, keeping her from throwing for the first time in her career.

“That was really hard mentally, it made me realize my love for the sport,” she said. “You know I couldn't go a day without, you know, getting anxiety just wanting to get back out there.”

It would take countless hours of rehab along with grueling procedures that included blood transfusions and eventually a successful stem cell injection that took bone marrow from her hip and injected it into her spine.

“Faith is very strong, even the doctor said I've never seen anybody put up against pain like this,” Stephanie Bender told 23ABC Sports.

Her mom, Stephanie, was right there with her throughout all of it.

“She (Faith) was extremely sore for about three or four days, so yes, we did camp out here, we watched cartoons and I followed her everywhere she went,” she said.

Faith has always overcome challenges, but Stephanie said this was the toughest to watch as a parent.

“As a mother you want to coddle, you want to fix, but I couldn't fix this,” she said. “The only thing I could do was try to find the science behind fixing it, and of course with prayer.”

“She could have very well, let her, let the injury get her down and beat her, so to speak, but she took it head on and she's you know we're going to beat this thing whatever it takes,” said Faith’s father, Paul Bender.

A year and a half later, the Liberty Senior was back where she was meant to be.

“To see or go to this since and still be able to, to come back and and basically pick up where we left off - I think she was even surprised at herself,” he said.

“It feels exactly where I left off, you know technique wise you know everything, physically,” said Faith. “I think I was really blessed to just have all those years of muscle memory just kind of still stay there.”

Ten years of throwing and working with a coach who was a state champ and competed at Olympic Trials and that happens to be your dad helps, too.

“She was, she was tiny, “ said Paul. “I remember being at the beach, and we were out on the sand. She asked me, she said, ‘Dad used to throw the discus, right?’ and I said ‘Yeah’, and she's shown me how to do it so we drew a circle in the sand. I showed her the footwork and she jumped in that circle and did the motion and I thought, ‘Wow, that's pretty cool.’”

From the beach to the concrete and setting records in high school - she’s now preparing for her next marks in her career: College and The Olympics.

“Whether that's winning NCAA Championships or Olympics, you know, I'm an Olympic hopeful. I want to be there already,” she said.

Faith will join one of the top track and field programs in the nation at Arizona State this year, again putting some distance between her and the things she loves.

“I know she's in good hands there, but it’s going to be really tough for me is to be able to sit back and, and, and watch her or watch somebody else, you know, work with her,” said Paul. “But yeah, it's gonna be tough. I know Phoenix is seven hours away by car, but I mean that's, I plan on being down there.”

“I’m always with her, always,” said Stephanie.

With faith in herself and faith from her parents, Faith Bender will be ready for whatever comes next.

“She dug deep and she hung on when everything else looked bleak, you know, I think that's keeping your faith,” Stephanie told 23ABC Sports.