By Adrianna Clinton
As most athletes know, coming back from an injury is never easy; overcoming the mental boundaries, pushing through the physical pain, and not giving in to the injury are all parts of the rehab process, one that junior track star Angelica Gonzalez is all too familiar with.
Following her highly successful freshman season two years ago, no one imagined that the road ahead for Gonzalez would be filled with injuries--injuries that could possibly destroy her career.
Her first of two unexpected hamstring injuries came in late December during her very first indoor invitational as a small strain. The second occurred during block starts in practice, where she experienced a stage two hamstring strain.
Success was all Gonzalez had ever known, and the setback she experienced put her in an uncharted place in her career.
Gonzalez became a well-decorated athlete during her freshman year as she was a county champion and district runner-up in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. She was also a state medalist in those events, qualifying her for nationals. She earned the names “Freshman Phenom” and “Speedy Gonzalez” after breaking three school records, four invitational records, and a county and district record, respectively.
And have colleges come calling.
Gonzalez has gained the interest of numerous Division I schools, including University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, University of Miami, University of Alabama, the Naval Academy, Harvard, Yale and Duke.
The expectations for her sophomore year were high after having such extraordinary success as a freshman. Her own hopes were even higher. The thought of being plagued with hamstring injuries before she could get her sophomore season off the ground and running never crossed her mind.
“I thought I was on top of the world and I was Superwoman, I could do anything, I could push through any pain and it would be fine the next day,” Gonzalez said. “Then I realized there were some things I couldn’t push through.”
After suffering her previous two injuries, her comeback was highly anticipated. Entering her first meet back, Gonzalez felt “amazing.” Little did she know that her return would be cut short.
“In the blocks, I was confident, but then halfway through the race at the 50 meter mark, I felt a sharp pain...my leg just gave out under me.”
Gonzalez went down with small tears in the same hamstring muscle, marking her third and most devastating injury, ending her sophomore season for good.
“It felt like I was down for a lifetime, but it was only a few seconds.”
Struggling to complete the race, she collapsed on the ground in a daze after crossing the finish line. Trainers rushed around her, giving her ice and helping her off the track elsewhere so no one could see her: “I was a mess.”
The rehab therapy that followed lasted very long. Despite it being over a year since the first injury occurred, Gonzalez is still not 100 percent recovered, not just physically, but mentally. As a new season approached, the memories of what happened “absolutely terrified” her for the first race back.
“It’s really scary not knowing where I’m at because I won’t know until I actually race,” she said. “When I went down at Central [York High School], the pain and the humiliation of it was one of the worst feelings ever and I do not ever want to relive that again.”
Throughout the recovery process, Gonzalez had a hard time coping with the reality of her situation. The treatment turned track into a burden, instead of being something she loved to do.
Nonetheless, the injury didn’t stop her from supporting her teammates on the track.
While watching her team from the bleachers, all she wanted to do was race. As districts came, Gonzalez saw girls running races with slower times than hers. “I could’ve won,” she said.
There were many times when Gonzalez lost hope in recovering and often thought to herself, “What happens if I don’t get better and I can’t sprint like I used to?” And times where she cried herself to sleep because of what happened.
On one occasion, she put her medals away in a box because of the constant reminder they were to her of what she could not have.
“Because of my freshman year, I was known for track. That’s how I was defined,” Gonzalez said. “Track was who I was. It was like I lost my identity, I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
It wasn’t until she was playing tournament softball this past summer with her friends that she got her identity back and found sight of why she runs on the track: “I run for my friends, I run for my family, and I run for me.”
As she moves forward from the injury, Gonzalez has set new goals for herself for the remainder of her high school career in the hopes that she fully recovers. On her list, she hopes to break and rebreak county, district, and state records in the 100 and 200, as well as become a state champion in those events. Nationals are on the list, too, as well as placing in the “top five, maybe even the top three” at the national level.
After high school, Gonzalez hopes to attend a Division I school and in the back of her mind, she contemplates possibly pursuing an Olympic career path, depending upon her success for the remainder of high school and through college.
In the meantime she is still rehabbing, participating in separate workouts in the weight room, working on deadlifts, squats, lunges, bridges and power cleans in an effort to fully restore the health of her hamstring. Later this season, she hopes to run the 100 again.
Additionally, Gonzalez continues to “perform well.” Though she can keep up with her teammates in practice, she is trying to get back into the swing of things slowly.
In her first meet back for her junior year debut, Gonzalez picked up where she left off her sophomore season, finishing with first places in the 200, 400 and long jump.
“It was more than I expected. My goal was just to be able to finish my race. Winning was just icing on the cake,” Gonzalez said about her first spring track meet back from her injury. “It was more than I had hoped for.”
Just recently Gonzalez earned first place points on the Red Lion homestretch versus Southwestern in the 100 (12.0), 400 (58.3) and 200 (25.3) meter races contributing to yet another Red Lion girls’ track and field YAIAA Division-One crown.