Inside The Comeback
By: Marisha Thompson
Have you ever experienced that “thing” that makes you feel like you are on Cloud-9? Or that
“thing” that makes a bad day turn into a good day or just makes you feel free? Well, my
“thing” is running. I could discuss for hours why I love running, but here are just a few things:
The sound of spikes hitting the track on an early workout, the smell of a polyurethane track
on a hot summer day, the feeling of pushing yourself mentally and physically every day, and,
most importantly, my favorite feeling after a hard workout or long run getting to go to a
coffee shop with your teammates.
If you know me you know that I am not the type of person to speak about how I am feeling or
express my emotions. I am the type of person that keeps it in, that shuts down when things
get personal. So sharing my story is not only hard, it’s also scary. But, it is something that I hope may help someone else or at the least help someone know that they are not alone and
that these feelings are temporary. When I was deep in my injury and recovery
process I found myself searching the internet to try to find someone else's story that I could
relate to, just to make me feel like I was not alone.
As a child, I was always active. I was that child that would always get in trouble in grade
school for never being able to sit still. But, running was not always my “thing.” I grew up
playing a variety of sports but I excelled the most at figure skating and hockey. I figure-skated for 10 years and played hockey for five years as a goaltender. I grew up with the idea that running was punishment. If we lost a game or we did not perform well, we would run laps
as punishment. I never would have imagined that five years later this punishment would become a passion...
It was not until my junior year of high school that everything changed when a coach reached out to me from one of the local running club teams and told me that I had potential. At this point, all this coach had seen me run was at the local high school events. But, for me, this was all that I needed to hear.
I decided to change the so-called punishment of running into my passion and running quickly turned into something that I wanted and got to do every day.
I started training as a competitive runner for indoor and outdoor track my junior year after cross country ended. I found that I fit into the training well and things started to click. That cross country season, I ended up placing 2nd in the U20 Ontario provincial race and represented Team Ontario at nationals.That summer I placed 1st in the provincial steeplechase race and 7th at nationals in the steeplechase. My senior year is when I started believing that I could have a future in the sport. I placed 3rd at provincials and got the opportunity to represent Ontario at Nationals. During this time I also committed to running Division I track and field and cross country at a University in the southern part of Florida.
Fast-forwarding to August 2020, I moved my life to Florida to start my next journey. I was
running well, I was confident, and I was ecstatic to be running in college in America. What
could go wrong? In cross country season I ran well, but I left feeling like there was something left in me. So I began to train harder and harder, increasing mile after mile until one day I just
broke. At the beginning of the indoor season, I was confident in my performance and
running, but I had this lingering quad pain. But, because of how determined I was to win a
conference championship, I never stopped. I ran through the pain until it was too late. I found
myself hopping to the conference start line and having to be carried off the track. What I
thought was just a quad strain ended up being a lot worse – a femur fracture.
This is where things started to take a turn. I went from being a runner to having to hop around on crutches for the next few months. During this time I found myself trying to do everything I could to keep my fitness. Whether that was doing two or three core workouts a day, crutching around two-to-four miles a day just to keep up my aerobic system, and finding myself being very cautious about what I would eat. I know that sounds silly, but at the moment I was
determined to keep my fitness.
During this time I decided that the school was not right for me to transfer to The University of Toledo. This was the best decision in my life. During the summer I was allowed to start to run again and my routine started to come back. I was happy. I moved to Toledo and everything was great for the first few weeks. But then I had that lingering quad pain again. And this time it was in the hip too. I saw a doctor and found out that I had a torn labrum and needed surgery.
This is where things started to get darker. I was crushed that I had another injury and that
I needed surgery to fix it. The months leading up to the surgery were an up
and down battle. Some days I had hope and was motivated to get as strong as possible
before the surgery, whereas other days I felt defeated and like there was no reason to keep
fighting. This up and down started to spiral into some disordered eating patterns and some
depressive episodes. I found myself once again trying to find any way to keep my
fitness. I began watching what I ate, doing lots of core workouts, and even got to the point
that I would sneak in cross-train workouts to try to keep my fitness.
I had the surgery on December 8th, 2021, and honestly thought that things were better. I was
motivated to work hard in physical training and the cross-training I was ALLOWED to do. But, what I quickly learned was that I was motivated by other things.. Which later progressed to double cross-train sessions, double lifting sessions, and a core routine that cycled through every day.
I was very lucky at that time that I had a coach and training room staff step in and recognize
that I was doing too much too fast. The reigns were tightened and we reset a training plan that was reasonable and sustainable.
The next few months went well and I progressed from cross-training to running on land and
eventually running 30 to 40 to 50 minutes. It was not until I started running constantly that
everything started to spiral again. It progressed from wanting to eat as clean as possible to
fit the “unrealistic image in my head” to feeling completely lost and losing my passion for the
sport. I spent the next month questioning If I was meant to be a runner, maybe I was meant
to get injured as a sign that I should quit. That there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I
would wake up, get ready to run, then sit on my front step, repeating in my head “ I am not
meant to be a runner.” I was solely convinced that all of the injuries and setbacks were a
sign for me to step away from that sport.
Throughout the whole injury/ surgery process I am grateful to my university sports medicine
staff who gave me all the resources I needed like a therapist, nutritionist, doctor, and most
importantly the support... But, at the time I was not all in. I was along for the ride, but not
driving. I went to these appointments just to say I went to them and took nothing out of them.
This is why I found myself always circling back to the same problems.
But, for me, this low point in my life was all I needed. It was kind of a breakthrough moment.
Even though my brain was telling me to quit, it sparked something else. Something that I did
not know that I had. Being at this point made me realize that I don't want to quit. Even
though I had these thoughts that I was not meant to be a runner. Every time I thought more
about quitting or retiring from the sport, it would make me ill. Deep down inside underneath all the layers of hurt, confusion, and sadness was still that girl who had goals, determination,
and confidence. I just needed to take a step back to realize it. And I needed to be all-in.
I realized to be that girl that has goals and is determined and confident, I had to do the work. I
had to start opening up and work through some of the things that were holding me back. With the combination of support from my coaches, teammates, and training room staff, I began to find my passion for the sport again but this time with a different perspective.
Throughout my whole injury process, I have yet to mention what kept me going. WHO kept
me going. It is not every day that you have a coach that cares more about you as a person
than as an athlete. I am very thankful that I have a coach here at the University of Toledo
that supported me through this whole process and did not give up on me. Who did not care if
I ever stepped on the track again, but truly just cared about me and making sure I was
enjoying what I was doing.
It can be hard being an athlete in the NCAA and being brought in to have that one job to
compete and represent that school. And having that stripped away can be heartbreaking
and leave you feeling lost and worthless. Like, you are not doing your job. But, having a
coach who supports you in any situation is truly life-saving.
There were many moments that I found myself deep in my thoughts frustrated with myself
that I was not able to run, that I was brought here to run and I could not do that, that I was
now a waste of space on the team. But I had a coach that would tell me on repeat
(probably at least twice a week) that I am more than an athlete: I am first a person. That she
cared about me as a person. Having that person that was reminding me that there was more to life than this sport and that did not give up on me when I was injured is what truly kept me going.
In light of sharing my experience, I hope others who may have similar experiences remember there is light at the end of the tunnel. Whether it is what you thought it was, there is light. That thing will get better and sometimes it just takes time.
That you are not defined by your sport, that people do care, and that your body does not
define you. Just keep fighting and don’t give up. If you are an athlete, reach out (even if it
seems scary or hard). Because people do care and there are resources to help you.