‘My body ripped through open space with ease, I took off over the hurdle, and BAM! I collapsed.’: Track athlete details overcoming Achilles injury during lockdown

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“I have many stories; many of which may interest your audience. However, this one, in particular, has taken up endless pages in my journal. With this opportunity presented by Love What Matters, I’ve built some courage to share it in some detail.

I have always been one who both looks for the silver lining and downplay hardships, in order to spare burden to others or appear stronger. However, my mom told me to keep my story honest and not to downplay the low points so it might bring light, insight, and inspiration to others.

track star posing for a photo
Photos by Michael P. Hall

So, let me start this story with one of my most tragic moments. While on a track scholarship at Iowa State University, I was in Arkansas for a meet. In full warm-up gear, glistening with sweat, and adrenaline ripping through my veins, I was ready to rip up the track. As a matter of fact, I already was, as my pre-competition hurdle starts were sharp. As most of my competition was ushered out to the track, I was in the last heat so I was taking my sweet time on the practice track, focusing on my breathing and setting my blocks for one last start.

I should mention that weeks before this race my training altered drastically due to conclusions I drew with my coach based on the past competition. I found myself clocking in two-plus additional hours a day on the track and therapy room. I was feeling the effects of transitioning my weights to a lighter load so I could move them faster. I was sleeping properly, eating clean, investing in daily yoga and meditation; I was ready to fly.

Heading into this race I knew with every bone and muscle in my body I was going to take off down the track. One of my tendons, however, did not agree with that. I took off out of the blocks for my last practice start, my body ripped through the open space with ease, I took off over the hurdle, and BAM! My body collapsed. My Achilles snapped. I was confused initially. Why was I on the ground? Why was the hurdle unmoved? I swore I heard the impact of something, but I didn’t feel it. Not at first. It wasn’t until I stumbled towards the hurdle it dawned on me that that sound I heard reverberating, the sound I thought was me hitting a hurdle, was actually the sound of my Achilles–snap. My mind raced rampantly. Words swirled in my head– Achilles, jello, the season’s over, surgery, long-a** recovery, no more scholarship. I laughed a bit. Maybe in disbelief, maybe because my worst nightmare came true, or possibly it was funny how quickly I accepted this fate before anyone else came to even realize what had taken place.

track star jumping the hurdle
Courtesy of Kendra Leger

Worse, it was mid-season and my team and coaches were busy with meets. Because I was far from home (in another country), and COVID was in full swing, due to travel restrictions, lockdowns, and quarantines, my family was unable to get to me. I was alone. Alone and isolated in another country, in a city where aside from my new teammates, I knew almost no one. Injured, I drove myself home after I got off the bus from Arkansas. Alone, I had to find a way both to and from the surgery just three days after the incident. Despite the fact that my team and coaches were busy training and on the road for meets, I was fortunate to have incredible trainers taking care of my rehab. Post-surgery they retaught me how to walk and helped me regain strength. I can say this was one of the most vulnerable times of my life. Isolated,  I felt incredibly vulnerable, so I closed off myself even more. The COVID pandemic was at its height, so that was easy to do.

I have encountered a few surgeries in the past. I have been bedridden. I have been forced into casts and had close calls with death. I’ve broken a few bones and a few hearts, one being my own. I have lost a few loved ones and came face to face with track-political dramas, but nothing could have prepared me for this one. Nothing prepared me for facing such a challenge alone, soul-crushed, and lost. Because the track has always been my main outlet for redirecting my emotions, finding a new outlet to cope with failure, loss, disappointment, and trauma was essential to both my mental health and recovery process.  I’ve grown immensely in this department, as this injury challenged me both physically, mentally, and emotionally. My recovery journey has been and still is frustrating. I was furious that a skill I had poured countless hours into could cause its own demise.

Post-surgery, my goal was to finish my exams in Iowa and hurry home to Canada. I needed my family’s support, and since my family could not get to me, I would get to them. I was stunned, however, that Covid restrictions had Canada on full lockdown. My homecoming was delayed. More frustration and disappointment. I was in a cast up to my knee, I could not drive, and I could not even get to a grocery store. But I kept my chin up. Determined that everything happens for a reason, I took that time building strength based on direction from my trainer in Iowa (huge shout-out to Ryan) and devising a proper comeback plan.

track star running her hardest
Courtesy of Kendra Leger

I won’t unfold the entirety of it, but as it has been, I have returned to Canada, to Guelph University to train under a dream team of coaches for a hurdler (incredible mind, Jason Kerr, and someone I’ve idolized since I first began hurdling, Angela White). I’ve just recently returned to the track feeling the strongest I have ever been. There have been many ups and downs returning, however, I have a solid team of sports therapists, coaches, strength trainers, and supportive teammates. The best part for an athlete who is rebuilding is that in revisiting the basics, the foundation could never be more sound.

My most significant emotional support has come from a few close friends and a lot of inner reflection. I returned to a passion I have had for art, so my paints and sketchbooks have been my friends and counselors. I also made sure I plugged into my journal often. Another system that offered me encouragement was Tiktok where I shared a bit of my journey and frustrations, and connected to a community that had similar stories; people who encouraged me, and who were encouraged by me. This has led me to have opportunities to share some of my track knowledge with other athletes and youth interested in track. It gives me so much energy to pass on knowledge gifted to me, and watch it unfold in other pursuits.

Despite all the trials in this past pandemic season, I never thought once that my track career was over. Only last summer I found myself on the long list to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics lining up against some credible competitors in Canada. This is what I have shared with people out loud. I initially just announced my season was cut short due to injury. However, as I literally re-found my footing, I made my first steps sharing some insight on my setback. This reached many other people suffering, a community that understood this loss, and I ultimately gained motivation from my self-assurance.

The most significant part behind my drive is that I believe I am meant for more. At times I’ve questioned if that is merely a feeling of begging unfulfilled. In a way, that may be true. But when I have been on the cusp of a breakthrough, I taste my potential, and in reflecting on where I’ve come from, and the mountains I’ve conquered, if  I conquer this Everest, not much could scare me. Definitely not a few measly hurdles.

track star proud to represent her country
Courtesy of Kendra Leger

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kendra Rose Leger from Guelph, Ontario, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram and TikTok. Submit your own story  here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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