By Peter Murphy
Published July 7, 2023
Scilla Benussi, a rising senior in computer science and mathematics, earned a gold medal and a bronze medal at the outdoor Mid-American Conference outdoor championships earlier this year. Benussi’s commitment and perseverance helped her succeed during what she calls her “comeback year.”
Spring 2023 was Benussi’s busiest semester of college. The start of track season, Benussi practiced every day of the week, and once meets began, she travelled for up to four days each week as well. She met the demands associated with being a student athlete all while maintaining her academic responsibilities.
“Managing all the assignments, exams and papers while also practicing two-four hours a day, taking care of my body with good food and a good night of sleep made this a real marathon semester,” Benussi says. “Twenty-four hours are not enough for me sometimes! Time management is a skill that student athletes need to have to stay on top of the practices and school schedule.”
Benussi faced additional adversity going into the 2022-23 track season. During her first outdoor meet of the 2021-22 track season, she injured her right foot. Initially, Benussi received treatments on the foot, but continued to practice and looked forward to the upcoming outdoor season. She was competing in high jump during the Raleigh Relays at the end of March 2022 when she says the pain became unbearable. She had an MRI after the Raleigh meet and the results confirmed she suffered a significant injury that would sideline her for several months.
“My season was over, and the whole world fell on me,” Benussi says. “It’s hard to explain in words, but when athletes like us – D1 track and field athletes used to practicing every single day – are forced to step out of the track because of an injury, it’s like we are cutting off our oxygen. I had a terrible few weeks but found the strength I needed to move forward. I spent the rest of the season doing my rehab and focused on my academics, which I’ve always cared for, but which also seemed to be the best remedy to keep my mind away from the thoughts of my now-finished season.”
Benussi, originally from Oriago, Italy, chose to attend the University at Buffalo because it was ideal for both her academic and athletic goals. Computer engineering has been a passion of Benussi’s and her dream career since she attended elementary school. She wanted to continue her athletic career and compete at the Division 1 level. UB gave Benussi an opportunity to do both, and during her recovery process, Benussi’s academic responsibilities helped her make it through a difficult time in her athletic career.
Benussi was in a walking boot for five weeks, and it took another five weeks for her to start running again. Although the process was long and challenging, she was determined to push through.
“I would say that I was able to run completely painless at the beginning of August 2022. Unfortunately, this meant I had to miss out on my last Under 23 Italian championship – a hard pill to swallow,” Benussi says. “The desire to come back grew even stronger within me. This year, I really wanted to show the people around me, and myself, what I was still capable of and that this injury did not end my athletic career. It simply paused my growth as an athlete, so I could recharge my batteries, take care of my body and come back stronger than before!”
By the time the 2023 MAC Indoor Track & Field Championships took place in February of this year, Benussi was back at full strength. She set personal best records in the shot put, long jump, 800 meters, 60-meter hurdles and the Pentathlon, where she earned her first medal in the U.S. Benussi earned bronze in the pentathlon event, a one-day competition consisting of five separate events: 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800 meters.
Benussi competed again in the MAC Outdoor Track and Field Championship, and the momentum she had building since starting her injury recovery continued. She won two more medals, including a gold in the javelin throw and a bronze in the heptathlon. She also set personal bests in the heptathlon’s seven events: 200 meters, 800 meters, 100-meter hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put and javelin throw. She is most proud of her accomplishments at the outdoor championship this year.
“The gold medal was totally unexpected, since I threw it at the end of day one of the heptathlon after the first four events. Looking at the pictures they took that day, everyone could tell how emotional I was standing on the highest step of that podium. I cried tears of joy for the rest of that week, still in disbelief,” Benussi says.
This fall, Benussi begins her senior year in UB’s computer science and mathematics programs, and she is excited for the classes she’s enrolled in. She is taking a break from academics this summer to “recharge her batteries” and prepare for the Italian Championships at the end of July, where she is competing in the heptathlon.
“I haven’t stopped practicing since the end of the season in the states. I took just a few days after the MAC championships to focus on my finals and fly back to Italy, but I immediately got back to work!” Benussi says. “I threw my personal best in the javelin throw two weeks ago, and I can’t wait to show Italy what they’ve been missing in these past two years!”
When the team starts practicing again for this upcoming season, Benussi will be the women’s team captain.