Three years ago Brandi Hemmings wouldn’t have been satisfied to merely finish a junior varsity cross country race.
Hemmings was Central Valley High’s No. 3 varsity runner as a freshman and finished 31st in the district race. As a sophomore she ran 19:55 to place 14th in district and helped the Bears finish fifth in state.
A series of injuries have since beset the runner, now a CV senior, who showed such promise as a ninth-grader.
Last season Hemmings couldn’t compete at all. Yet, she said, she has never considered quitting.
“I like the way running feels,” she said. “It made me feel I was accomplishing something others couldn’t.”
Saturday, in her first race in nearly two years, Hemmings completed Shadle Park High School’s Highlander Invitational JV race to the delight of her coaches.
Since her freshman year, the list of injuries Hemmings has suffered includes a series of stress fractures that resulted in iliotibial band pain and culminated with two operations last December on her right knee.
Irritation to the IT band, which runs from the hip to the side of the kneecap, is common among distance runners. Hemmings said she thinks that ill-fitting orthotics may have led to a problem.
“I got orthotics in the 10th grade and they didn’t suit the way I ran,” she said.
During surgery doctors cut a hole in the outside of her right knee and removed part of the IT band.
She developed a staph infection and the hole never healed. In the spring she was relegated to throwing the discus in track before undergoing further surgery.
A portion of her latissimus dorsi muscle was attached to the knee followed by a skin graft. Hemmings spent two weeks in the hospital and a week at school in a wheelchair. All so she could run again.
“What I told the doctors is that I wanted to be ready by my senior year,” she said. “I made it my goal to be able to run in the summer and was able to run without pain by the end.”
She has lifted weights with a personal trainer and gotten back into running gradually, working through the resultant tendinitis.
“I have to get it in my head to get past the pain,” said Hemmings. “Mental discipline is all part of getting in shape.”
Last weekend’s Highlander Invitational was her first race in two years. She negotiated the flat Shadle Park course with little more than muscle soreness, said her coach, Dennis McGuire.
Hemmings admitted it had been hard sitting on the sidelines watching teammates whom she had run with since ninth grade.
“There hasn’t been one meet I haven’t burst into tears,” she said.
Now her goal is to make the varsity cross country team again. Her long-term goal, she said, is “to shoot for the stars” in track where she will run 400 and 800 meters.
McGuire said she has the type of potential a college coach might take a chance on.
“Brandi has not run without pain, ever,” said McGuire. “She has had no totally healthy season. We’re hoping for health in the spring.”
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