The Oberlin Stories Project

On overcoming physical injuries with community support

Gabe Brown ’16

“Being on the cross-country team has been the glue that has held my Oberlin experience together.”

Three runners in rain-soaked cross country team uniforms

Being on the cross-country team has been the glue that has held my Oberlin experience together. Running every day through the crisp Ohio air lets me laugh with my friends as I prepare for the next exciting 8k. After each race, I almost collapse from exhaustion, but pushing myself to new physical limits and knowing my teammates are doing the same makes the experience worth it. The joy I get from this camaraderie explains why a debilitating knee injury that developed at the end of last summer came as such a shock.

While undertaking summer training on my own, I had eagerly anticipated my return to campus in late August and the opportunity to join my friends on runs and workouts once again. Yet flares of pain in my right knee halted my season before it even started. Diagnosed with patella-femoral syndrome, I enviously watched my teammates embark on runs at preseason camp while my training was limited to cautious biking. Once back on campus, I began a focused rehabilitation program with an athletic trainer that involved frequent check-ins with my coach. The biking and swimming that dominated my training in September were labors of patience. Although I valued the opportunity to cheer on my teammates at meets, I longed to be running beside them and worried about my ability to compete in important races at the end of the season. In hindsight, I appreciate how my athletic trainer and coach gave me time to recover by crafting a training regimen that resisted pushing too hard too soon.

Improvement came. Aided by a light brace, my right knee encountered less and less of the pain that had plagued it for over a month, and I began running again. However, I still harbored doubts about my fitness and insisted on curtailing my goals for the rest of the season. A talk with my friend and team captain, Jimmy Taylor ’14, changed that outlook. After listening to my scaled-back plans, he suggested that I shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the remainder of my season. I could still race at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Regionals meet, in which only a team’s top 7 runners compete, if I set my mind to it. Buoyed by this advice, I dove into my training, relishing every run and workout as an opportunity to improve. I surprised myself on my first race back, running near my best 8k time even as the last mile proved excruciating. The regionals meet was in my sights. I embraced a rainy, muddy home meet and then an even rainier conference championship, beating dozens of my competitors to place myself squarely in our team’s top 7. Regionals was next.

Reaching the regionals meet was an accomplishment by itself. While battling my injury in early September, I never expected to be riding the team bus to Michigan in November, preparing to compete against the other top Division III runners in the Great Lakes region. I benefited from a committed group of coaches, trainers, and teammates who supported me as I overcame injury and began racing again. This support system is just one of many at Oberlin that help students embrace the challenges that appear throughout their college career. Huddled with my teammates the chilly morning of the regionals race, I felt this support and bristled with excitement at the chance to compete one final time during the season. That day, I had my best race of the year, running a minute faster than I ever had before in an 8k. Challenge: completed.