Throughout her entire life, Tori Manmiller has loved sports. The Fleetwood junior entered high school with the goal of achieving All-County recognition in field hockey and softball. Then, during her freshman year, disaster struck.
After sustaining her fourth non-sports-related concussion, “the doctor said, ‘No more sports.’”
Those three words were life-changing. For someone whose athletic career was still so young, it was near devastating, as Tori felt the thing she loved most being snatched away from her grasping arms.
Many kids her age would have taken the news for what it was and walked away from sports altogether. Tori, though, had other plans, like becoming a manager and photographer for her field hockey team. Although it allowed her to stay close to her team and teammates, it was still a difficult transition.
“You play a different part on the team. As a manager, you’re their support system, so it was really good for me to still be able to be there and support them in a different way,” said Tori. “I knew I wasn’t supporting them on the field, but anytime they needed something, I was there, and it was just nice for me to be able to do that for them.”
Photography wasn’t Tori’s initial choice for how she would stay involved in sports, but when the field hockey team needed someone to put together a slideshow, she was happy to help. Her mother, Gretchen Manmiller, saw it as one of Tori’s first steps toward turning her disappointment into a new hobby.
“She’s just a strong young woman,” said Gretchen. “I won’t say that there wasn’t a grieving period for her; it hit her really hard and this has been a major part of her life, but luckily the coaches were like, ‘We need a manager and we’d love some help’, and she just stepped into that role and took it with a seriousness and a passion.”
From there, Tori continued to participate more and more from the sideline. She now takes photos for the field hockey, softball, cross country, and track and field teams.
“It was a way for me to express myself,” said Tori. “It was kind of like an out for me from normal life.”
What began as a simple stress reliever and coping mechanism in her everyday life ended up as much more. As Tori gained more experience with a camera, she realized that she had a “natural eye” for photography. Gretchen knew that her daughter could bounce back from her unfortunate diagnosis, but Tori’s skill was startling.
“Was it a surprise? No. I think it’s the level of talent that she had that I never expected,” said Gretchen.
The talent that Tori discovered did not go unnoticed, as a local photographer and friend reached out and told her about the Berks Photographic Society’s 2019 Senior High Digital Photography Contest. The contest featured contestants from across Berks County, many of them being students much more experienced than Tori, whose first response to entering the competition was, “Do I have to?”
“Over 50 kids submitted pictures. Over 100 pictures were submitted from all different high schools throughout Berks County,” said Gretchen, describing the intimidation that Tori first felt.
Despite her initial trepidation, Tori decided she would enter the contest. The photo that she chose suits her passion perfectly. Titled “Sass in the Rain”, it depicts the pouting face of one of her field hockey teammates.
“It’s a picture of my good friend, Michaela Kaskey. We were at a Berks Catholic away game and it started to rain,” said Tori. “I was like, ‘Michaela, turn around!’—and she makes this face, and I just snapped a picture of it, and that was it.”
Tori and Gretchen both knew it was a great photo right away. What they didn’t know was whether or not it was worthy of becoming an award-winning photo. At the award ceremony on March 23, though, they found out.
Her photo won first prize in one of seven categories, and then went on to take home the overall first place award. It took a few minutes for that to settle in.
“We knew this was a good one, we just didn’t think it was that good,” said Gretchen. “I have to say, the competition level was amazing.”
The victory would have been special for anyone, but for Tori, it meant much more than just a blue ribbon. The award represented her perseverance, determination, and most importantly, her passion.
“When [doctors] told her she couldn’t [play contact sports], she lost a big piece of herself,” said Gretchen. “Now this is becoming a new part of her.”
Tori added, “It’s a sense of accomplishment; I don’t need just sports to make myself feel good.”
Although she is unsure what the future will hold for her, Tori knows that photography is not something she will part with lightly. It has given her the ability to overcome what some may never have been able to, and in some ways, it has allowed her journey to come full circle.
“When she was going into freshman year she came up with a list of things she wanted to do, and one of them was to be all-county in her sport,” said Gretchen. “Now she got the award, and although it’s not a sports [award], she literally is the overall [top] photographer of Berks County high schools.”