2011-08-25 / News

Former NKHS cross-country standout enters final collegiate season

BY GEOFF CAMPBELL


CAITLIN CRAWFORD CAITLIN CRAWFORD Caitlin Crawford’s career as a runner at Wake Forest almost didn’t happen.

In the spring of her senior year at North Kingstown High School, she sustained a serious injury: a tear to her peroneal tendon and a partial tear of the corresponding Achilles tendon.

“I had a pretty difficult time adjusting my freshman year,” Crawford said. She added that the injury required nearly a year of recovery and rehabilitation.

It happened while Crawford was getting ready to stretch after a workout near the end of her high school career. “I went to stretch and something just ripped.”

Grateful for her parents’ patience, Crawford went to “every doctor.” She settled on New Jersey doctor John Mc- Nerny, the team podiatrist for the New York Giants, New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils.

McNerny chose not to operate and instead created orthotics that helped to regulate her foot pushing off. “He literally saved my career,” she said. That – in combination with a prescription for what Crawford described as “months and months of intense physical therapy” – has allowed her to compete in Division-I athletics.

The redshirt freshman did not run cross country that first fall and instead committed to a work-out regimen that allowed her to return for spring track in her freshman season. Showing signifi cant improvement and clocking personal record times every occasion she stepped on the track that first season back was no solace to the high school standout.

She said that she was “getting destroyed in every event.”

“This was not what I signed up for,” she said. Instead of racing and competing, she said she was “trying to survive.” She acknowledged the irony of the situation: getting better and doing worse.

She summed the transition up succinctly: “Being good in Rhode Island did not mean that you would be good in the [Atlantic Coast Conference].”

She added, “When the bar is raised, you rise to meet it.” As a varsity team member in her sophomore year, she continued to reach for the bar. She said that as a junior, “It clicked.” By the end of her junior year she said that she was “running number three on the [cross-country] team.” Her time of 18 minutes, 18.4 seconds in the 5k at the Charlotte Invitational was a season-best achievement. That same season she set another personal record at Lehigh in the 6k with a time of 21:50. She described the run as “the best cross-country race I ever had.”

But the 6k distance was never Crawford’s race – the middle distance runs are her forte. Her mile times are consistently below the five-minute mark. She described her junior year as “that dream season that everyone wishes for where every week you are just knocking time off.” She said that the best race of the season was in the 1,200-meter medley, running the first leg in 3:33. Crawford explained that the 1,200, 400, 800 and mile legs of the 1,200-medley relay are only seen in the indoor season. She characterized the race as a “fun relay.”

A 2007 graduate of North Kingstown High School, Crawford is a lifelong Jamestowner who attended both Melrose and Lawn Avenue schools. She still runs in the summer with five of her high school teammates: Crawford can still be found with Jamestowner Erin Brennan – an accomplished collegiate runner at UNC Wilmington – running out to Beavertail in the morning with fellow Skippers Siobhan Breagy, Mary Najarian, Allie Stasiuk and Nicole Christoforo.

As so many of Jamestown’s runners before her, Crawford began running on the middle school cross-country team and by the time she was an eighth grader, including her participation on club teams and Junior Olympics, she was a three-season runner.

Crawford ran cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track all four years at NKHS. Winning three state championships as a leader on the cross-country team, Crawford said that the streak was interrupted by “a heart-breaking loss” to Coventry in her junior year. She explained that a series of three “fluke” injuries to top runners – that occurred during the race – turned what should have been a rout into a second-place finish.

Crawford said that she relished her time on a cross-country course more than time on the track. Her sub-19-minute running times in high school on a 5k course, as well as her two secondplace finishes in the Rhode Island state championships, were signs of her success and may have added to her preference for the running in the fall.

That changed at Wake Forest, the Division-I athletic powerhouse that is part of the ACC. As a recruited runner, Crawford needed to commit to all three seasons. She explained that the collegiate cross-country course extends to 6k, adding more than a half-mile to an already grueling event. Running in the slowly rescinding temperature of a North Carolina fall, Crawford said, “You run as hard as you can until you die, and then you try not to die.” The difference between cross-country and track events, she added, is the ability to discern when you are having a good day.

Crawford is a 2011 graduate of Wake Forest but was red-shirted in what would have been her senior year. She will earn her master’s degree in accounting while she runs in her final year of eligibility.

Following last winter’s internship at Earnst & Young, Crawford was hired and the “Big Four” accounting firm agreed to defer her starting date until 2012. She said that her ideal assignment would use both her background in accounting and Spanish to work in “emerging markets,” such as Brazil, Bolivia or Chile.

Prior to taking the Boston practicum, the team faced a difficult challenge when the university made a coaching change. A divided team struggled for a time but Crawford said that the new coaches – one from Notre Dame and the other from the University of Virginia – have begun to turn the team around. Crawford, who has had only limited experience with them because of her winter internship, is looking forward to working with the coaches beginning in the fall.

Because the college missed her eligibility-filing deadline for Crawford’s redshirt season, she will run as an independent entity during the fall. The 24/7/365 running schedule has been guided this summer by the new coaches. She said that a Division-I runner takes no more than two or three weeks off in a year. Crawford said that this year, because of her internship, she managed two weeks off at the end of the year, which she used to hike in Peru.

She explained that summer training begins in June after the NCAA Championships and will include weekly totals up to, and including, 60 miles.

One day per week in the summer is set aside for cross training such as swimming or biking and three days per week the athletes add weight training to their running schedule.

Looking forward to her final season in indoor and outdoor track, Crawford said that her long journey has brought her to a place where she knows that when she steps to the starting line she has the potential to “make a final or score points.” Besides the perfect final seasons, she is also looking forward to one more year of allowing her life to “wrap around running.” But it won’t end there, she said, because running is in her future. She has already scouted the numerous running clubs in Boston because, as she put it, “I know what makes me happy.”

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