What Shawnna Shula remembers most vividly about that moment — the one that changed everything — was the score.
Shula, the Fife High School volleyball coach at the time, was coaching a match at White River last October when her hand began to tingle. A headache followed. Then she felt a shocking sensation buzz through the left side of her body.
“The last time I looked up, we were (up) 13-1,” she said. “And then all I remember is going to the floor.”
Almost a year after collapsing on the bench, Shula is continuing to coach. She is now at Bethel High School.
But that sequence Oct. 16 in Buckley was terrifying. What was initially feared to be a heart attack turned out to be a reaction to the trauma caused by a degenerative disc disease in her neck, bone spurs and two fused vertebrae.
“After going on 30 years of playing and coaching volleyball, my body started to give out,” she said.
Shula was immediately transported to the hospital, but was discharged a few hours later. The next afternoon, she was back in the Fife gymnasium coaching practice.
Pain persisted. And even though she guided the Trojans to the Class 2A state tournament, Shula knew her body was telling her something was wrong.
“And I didn’t listen,” Shula said.
Shula underwent shoulder surgery in April. Doctors discovered so much damage that they told her she was done coaching for at least a
full year, just to ensure a full recovery.
Shula turned in a letter of resignation to Fife athletic director Joe Keller in June.
“I cried when I sent in my letter of resignation,” she said. “But I couldn’t expect my players to give 100 percent all the time when I felt I couldn’t give it 100 percent myself.”
It marked the end of two stressful seasons for Shula at her alma mater. After all, she was the one hired to replace her legendary aunt, Jan Kirk, who coached the school to four state titles (1992, 1995-96, 1999) in 24 seasons and is a member of the Washington State Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame.
“It was tough,” she said. “I heard (a lot of), ‘It’s not Jan Kirk and it’s not her program.’ … Well, no, it wasn’t, but a lot of those things I brought in, I had learned from her.”
Kirk acknowledged as much.
“I think it was probably a good idea that she went somewhere she can build her own program without me in the background,” she said.
Shortly after resigning at Fife, Shula had a second surgery to remove a deformed acromioclavicular joint from the top of her shoulder. And after enduring intense physical therapy, the aches and pain began subsiding — and the passion to coach again grew.
“Most of my pain is gone,” Shula said.
When the varsity position at Rogers High School became vacant, Shula — a stay-at-home mother who substitutes as a paraeducator — applied for it, only to lose out to longtime Bethel coach John Reopelle.
She turned around and applied for the Bethel opening, and was hired.
So far, her instruction is strictly through explanation, not demonstration, as she continues to work her way back from her injuries.
“To literally step back and be able to watch has really allowed me to become a better coach,” Shula said. “Now it’s about being prepared mentally more than physically.
“I’m extremely happy at Bethel. I think that making the decision to take on a position even though I wasn’t 100 percent was a good thing.”