This story appreas in the Sept. 1 edition of The Community Post
For the past two years New Bremen cross country runner Emma Keller hasn’t been able to compete.
Keller hurt her foot at the end of freshman year and ran through the pain. During travel softball in the summer it slowly started hurting again and as she ran in the summer for her cross-country miles, it got worse and worse.
In and out of several doctors, they couldn’t find what was wrong.
“We think it was over use,” said Keller. “Then I injured it and didn’t let it heal, I guess. Then it just got to the point it was bad.”
“She came through the summer feeling alright,” said last year’s head coach Julie Ferguson. “They thought they had maybe pinpointed what her problem was and then she started running and having pain again. Basically, since the preseason, she knew (her season) was over.”
“She was hopeful she would be able to come back but it just never happened last year,” added Ferguson. “She was probably the most committed athlete on the team because she couldn’t run and she came every day.”
Ferguson said Keller would help track time and keep stats, all the while cheering on her teammates with a smile even though she couldn’t be out there.
As someone who never had a long-term injury, Keller said it was difficult because she had never known what it was like to sit out and not play or run.
Keller had Tarsal tunnel syndrome, compared to carpal tunnel syndrome but much rarer with fewer than 200,000 cases diagnosed in the US per year, which occurs from the inside of the ankle to the foot.
“It took probably a year and a half for them to figure out what it was,” said Keller. “I was in and out of sports until they figured out what it was, I had surgery this past January and have been recovering ever since.”
It’s been a slow rehabilitation process, mentally and physically, with Keller constantly at the physical therapy at first.
“I still think, ‘am I going to hurt it again?’” said Keller. “’Am I okay to do certain things?’ But I think it’s about baby steps, certain things I haven’t been able to do because of the pain I’ve been taking slower. That’s helping me physically and mentally to let myself know I’m okay and doing better.”
In March, she was cleared for running protocol which lasted about six to eight weeks before she was given the ok to return to sports.
“She’s been working really hard, all summer long,” said first year head coach Jason Barhorst. “She came out to summer runs and the ones she didn’t, she was always running by herself, pushing each run.”
It was painful at first, using muscles that hadn’t been used in a while according to Keller but it’s slowly began to get better.
“Even now somedays it’s still not 100 percent,” said Keller. “But it’s better than it was before.”
Heading into the team’s first race at St. Marys on Aug. 25, The Community Post asked Keller about her emotions.
“I was so nervous but it felt so good,” said Keller. “I forget what it felt like. It’s a feeling you don’t get in any other sport.”
Keller then proceeded to place first overall for the team (23:24.90) and second overall out of sixty racers as the girls (29) won the county race ahead of Waynesfield Goshen (54) and St. Marys (57).
“I was excited, it was awesome,” said Keller on crossing the finish line on Aug 28. “I was really worried we wouldn’t have a season this year. We’ll take it day by day. We’ve gotten one meet in and another tomorrow, we’re grateful for that.”
“You think you know who your top runners are but you never really do,” said Barhorst, who mentioned Keller as a senior looking to make an impact in his pre-season preview. “Seeing that happen on the first race was gratifying, to see the work she did this summer is transferring to race day.”
“No one deserve it more than her, seriously,” said Ferguson. “She’s such a sweet person, to stick with, through all the misdiagnoses, she loves to run. I’m really happy for her.”