NewsWatkins Overcomes Obstacles to Run for MVNU
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - Cross country runners have long been known for their determination, perseverance, and dedication due to the sometimes grueling nature of their sport that requires endless training and pushing their bodies to the limit in order to continually better their times.
For Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s Amanda Watkins, that perseverance and determination was required just for her to be able to train with the team this year as she battled back from brain surgery and a broken ankle just to be able to compete in the final two races of the season for the Lady Cougars.
For Watkins, the story begins about a year ago when during her junior year she decided that she would go out for the cross country team that was being re-started at MVNU in 2006 after a 27-year absence. A native of Mount Vernon, she had played volleyball and run track all throughout middle school and high school, but she quickly fell in love with cross country after running as a senior at Mount Vernon High School.
"Running cross country was such a positive experience for me in high school,” said Watkins, who also helped the Mount Vernon High School team to a conference track title as a senior. "We had such a great coach and our team was like a family. This was a huge influence on why I decided to run at MVNU. In a sport like cross country, you see each other at your worst so there is so much encouragement between teammates. You create such a bond with each other.”
"I wanted to experience being part of a team again, and when some of my good friends decided to run, my decision to run became even more confirmed,” Watkins added. "To be able to run with good friends my last year of college for a great coach (Chip Wilson), it seemed like a perfect way to finish up my time here at MVNU.”
As Watkins began training and making plans to run cross country in the fall of 2006, different roadblocks began to come across her path. In February, she was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, which is characterized by abnormalities in the area where the brain and spinal cord meet that cause part of the cerebellum to protrude through the bottom of the skull and into the spinal column. This interferes with the flow of spinal fluid to and from the brain. As a result, Watkins was scheduled to undergo surgery in May to remove a portion of the bottom part of her skull and the inside of her first vertebrae in order to allow spinal fluid to reach her brain and hopefully shrink the syrinx that had formed in her spinal cord.
During the months leading up to the surgery, Watkins was told that she could continue to run and exercise right up until the time of the surgery. So, she began training for the upcoming cross country season since she knew that the surgery would keep her laid up for awhile. Two day before the surgery, she stepped in a hole while running and heard a crack. She knew right away that it was broken. Despite the broken ankle, the doctors were still able to proceed with the brain surgery and Watkins began to recover from it in about a month. However, she was still unable to walk due to the broken ankle until late in July.
"It was definitely an eventful and character-building summer for me,” she said. "My hopes of running cross country began to dwindle the longer I wasn’t able to walk because I knew that even if I was able to run by the time the season started that I would be too out of shape to actually help the team. Then, my hopes were further crushed when my surgeon told me that some tests revealed information that the surgery had not produced the anticipated results and that I would not be able to run until November.”
However, Watkins was determined to run anyway and after her ankle became stronger she started running short distances at a time. She could only make it about 200 meters when she first started, but then she slowly worked her way up to 400 meters, 800 meters, and finally a mile. By this time, the cross country season had started and she realized that she was in no shape to keep up with her teammates.
"Coach Wilson was so understanding and gave me separate workouts to do on my own until I was stronger,” Watkins said. "I was gradually able to run more and more, and finally at the end of October I was feeling like I was back to normal. I really wanted to try and compete in our last two meets, but I wasn’t sure if my surgeon would clear me in time. Thankfully, I was able to contact him and explain to him that I had been running and had been feeling better and better. He agreed to clear me for the last two meets, and I was so excited to finally be able to compete.”
After serving as a cheerleader for her teammates and charting their times with a stopwatch at the previous meets, Watkins was able to join 130 other runners for the American Mideast Conference/NAIA Region IX Meet hosted by Tiffin University on November 4. In her first action of the year, she completed the five-kilometer course in 23:15 to finish 95th and in fourth place for MVNU. Her finish also helped the Lady Cougars to an 11th-place finish in the 14-team event.
"I was so excited to finally be able to run,” said Watkins. "Coach Wilson and the whole team have been so encouraging and supportive throughout the entire season. There were definitely times when I let the frustration get to me, but the team and Coach Wilson were always there to help me keep my head up. Once I got into the mindset that even though it was a slow process that I was still making progress, that was a turning point for me. I knew that God wouldn’t let me do any more than my body could handle, so I just kept running.”
While Watkins is quick to thank her teammates and coach for their support through all the difficult times, she was also providing an example that did not go unnoticed. "Amanda has been such a strong supporter and encourager this year,” said senior teammate Brittany Dissinger. "There were times that she was in so much pain that we encouraged her to stop and just take a day to rest and recover. However, being the tough competitor that she is, she kept on and never quit.”
"I really admire the way that Amanda has persevered through her injuries this season,” added senior Sarah Parks, who was a high school teammate of Watkins as well. "She has shown that discipline and self-determination can pay off no matter how difficult the situation. Injuries are one of the things that any athlete dreads and to have to overcome two significant ones in one season proves that Amanda has a lot of heart and does not give up easily. I have seen how frustrated she would get at times, but she never once quit. She was an encouragement to our team at times when I know that it had to be so hard on her not to be able to run.”
"Amanda is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen,” said Wilson of Watkins, who was selected as the team’s captain and will also earn Scholar-Athlete honors with a 3.84 grade point average as a Spanish Education major. "She has battled many obstacles and I have seen her struggle, but she has never quit. Through her struggles she has inspired the rest of the team. She has come a long way in just a short time, and as a team captain, she has shown what leadership is truly about.”
"Thankfully, God never gives us more than we can handle,” Watkins said. "Even though the past few months have been filled with frustrating and humbling experiences, there is no doubt in my mind that God had a reason for it all. If I had not broken my ankle, I know that I would have started running and training too early and more than likely would have undone what the surgery had helped to fix. So, in a way, the broken ankle was a blessing - not a fun one - but still a blessing. God has proven His faithfulness over and over to me and what a comfort it is to know that His faithfulness will never stop.”
Watkins and the rest of the MVNU men’s and women’s cross country teams will close out their successful first season back on Saturday at the National Christian College Athletic Association National Meet held at Cedarville University.