Razorback runner fights back after injuries

 

Stephanie Brown has been running for half of her life.

She started her journey in sixth grade, running track for Tri-Valley Middle School.

Now, as a senior at University of Arkansas, she is a fierce competitor in the NCAA. At the NCAA Championships in June, Brown took a sixth place finish in the 1,500 meter race.

But perhaps more impressive is the obstacles she had to overcome to get there.

In February of last year, a vendor brought in an abdominal machine to test the core strength of various athletes in the Arkansas program.

“I was thinking, ‘I have abs, I’m going to be the best,’” said Brown, looking back on that day.

But after a nine-mile run earlier that day that left her very fatigued, it might not have been the best idea.

“I got on there and did the machine. The next day I felt something in my lower back and glutes,” said Brown, who soon found out she had pulled her right piriformis muscle and strained her back. “It all was kind of downhill from there.”

With only two weeks left until the Southeastern Conference meet and four weeks until the NCAA Championship, Brown wasn’t going to left a little discomfort get in her way.

“I ran on it for a week. I even ran a race and did great,” said Brown. But her situation continued to deteriorate rather quickly. She was forced to take two months off from running in order to nurse herself back to health.

“One of the worst parts happened during a massage after my injury. I was reading through a magazine and I got to the rankings for the indoor Nationals. It had me ranked first in the 800, and I knew I wasn’t even running by then,” she recounted.

Brown had to redshirt for the outdoor season due to the injury, giving her time to rest and recover before she took on the Olympic Trials.

Having already qualified for a chance to run against the nation’s best, Brown came back with six weeks to get in top shape. Despite having “not a lot of time to prepare,” Brown describes her performance at the trials as “okay.”

When Brown began training again for the cross country season, her injury which she was still recovering from started getting worse. Her left hip began bothering her severely, so she turned to the doctors to see what was going on.

“[The doctors] couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my hip. I had every injection possible and tried every single thing,” explained Brown, who eventually was sent to St. Vincent Performance Center in Indianapolis, Ind. for a solution.

Brown had been diagnosed with Tensor Fasciae Latae Muscle Syndrome, better known as TFL Syndrome. When she originally injured herself and started running again, she began to overcompensate for the pain. This caused the TFL Syndrome and weakened the muscles in her backside.

“Throughout the injury, I tried to look at it in a positive way,” she explained. “I’ve never been so low in my life and hopeless. I kept telling myself my career was over and that everything I’d ever wanted and planned for was gone. It was like someone stole something from you.”

But her career wasn’t over. After a lot of therapy and rehabilitation, she was ready to get back to her routine. The injury helped her learn a few things about herself.

“I appreciate the sport more now, and I realized how much I love it,” said Brown. “I also have a soft spot for everyone else I’ve known that’s been injured.”

Around January of this year, Brown was back to full strength and running on the track; and it wasn’t a day too soon with only six months before she would face the toughest field of collegiate athletes in the nation.

During the NCAA Championship this year for outdoor track, Brown took on seven other All-Americans in the 1,500 meter race. The race was nothing short of intense as she describes it.

“I wanted to win. There are 12 girls and only one winning spot. There were eight All-Americans in the race,” she said. “I ran so hard I can’t even remember all the thoughts I had.”

While sixth place is a great achievement when facing off against the best competition in the country, Brown knew she could’ve done better.

“There were some mistakes I made,” she admitted. “You have races that go perfectly, and you have races that go okay; this was an okay race. There are 11 girls that can say their race wasn’t perfect.”

One thing she does recall from the day was sitting in a tent after her race and remembering the whole experience as a journey.

“I looked at it as a journey from where I was. I’m ecstatic about it. As an individual race, I wasn’t super thrilled about it; as a whole, I’m truly a believer that things happen for a reason. There was a reason why I didn’t win this time,” Brown said.

The sixth place finish this year has led the All-American runner to push herself even harder before she wraps her career as a Razorback. With three seasons left to compete at the collegiate level, Brown wants to make her mark before she leaves.

“The goals of this year are probably the most immense,” admits Brown. “I feel like there’s more pressure toward actually doing well. You have to do well in college to get a contract [once you graduate]. I have cross country first, and we have a big team goal with a great team. I want us to be in the top three finishers, and being a leader for that and being involved is just a big goal. For the indoor season, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to win a championship for myself. I want us to do well as a team also. And for the outdoor season, it’s all about continuing consistency and grabbing a top place at nationals.”

After completing her outdoor season in Arkansas, Brown headed home to Downs for a much-needed visit.

“This is the first year I’ve been home since my freshman year,” said Brown, who will be stationing herself in Downs for a month this time. “I haven’t been home for more than eight days in three and a half years.”

But just because she’ll be home doesn’t mean her training stops. A short two-week break was all she took before kicking her training into high gear again and preparing for the cross country season this fall. Her goal for the summer is to log 60 miles per week to get in shape, but she admits that it won’t be 60 miles every week.

“Your body can only take so much,” said Brown, who had to learn that lesson the hard way. “Breaks drive me crazy, especially after my six-month break. But they are still vital and important within training. As much as training and running hard is important, you have to take care of yourself on the outside also.”

So for now, Brown will call Downs home a little bit longer. But when she returns to University of Arkansas and gears up as a Razorback once again, her eyes will be focused on setting some new goals for herself and her teammates.

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Laces with Stephanie Brown

 

It’s no secret that University of Arkansas runner and Tri-Valley alumna Stephanie Brown loves to run. She’s a fierce competitor in practice and during a race, but what about off the track?

When Stephanie was younger, her brother took up running as “a social thing,” according to his little sister. But when Robert, their father, took Stephanie along one day, it changed her life.

“Dad asked if I wanted to go to a 5K race and I said ‘sure.’ At the race, there was a family friend who had a daughter that was a really good runner for Normal West. She told my dad that he had to get me running shoes. That’s when I started it,” said Stephanie. She once thought she was a soccer player, but something better about running changed her mind at a young age.

Her abnormally fast times in middle school and high school caught the attention of more than a few NCAA Division 1 colleges, so Stephanie had her pick of full ride offers.

“We had some family friends that lived in Arkansas. They told me it would be a good fit, so I put it on my list of places to visit,” said Stephanie. “When I got there, it just seemed right. I liked the city. I liked the coach…everything seemed to be put right in place, and it made it very easy for me.”

When she isn’t running (which is rarely), Stephanie likes to express her creative side.

“I guess I would call myself an artist,” she admitted. “I like to pain and make clothes for friends. Art is a pretty important thing to me, so I like to stay creative in any way.”

In the classroom, Stephanie majors in communications at Arkansas. But ultimately, she hopes to run professionally after college.

“I hope that I can continue to be involved in the sport in some way, even if it isn’t running. I want to help people and be there for some of the issues I’ve seen throughout the years with the sport,” she explained.

One thing that Stephanie has experienced herself that she wants to help with is the pressure, especially in younger athletes.

“I really want to help younger kids cope with stress and pressure. Pressure is everywhere in the world and when you’re a kid, you don’t understand what that means and how to handle it,” she explained.

Stephanie recalls plenty of times when she was younger and felt scared lining up for a race. But she credits the support system of her parents, staff at University of Arkansas and friends from the area for helping her overcome that.

“My support system has just been awesome,” said Stephanie. “Maybe some kids don’t have that. If they could have my help or someone else’s help, maybe it could help them.”

One way that she wants to help accomplish this is by doing well, for herself and her school.

“I want to do well for opportunities that go along with doing well. If people know who I am, then maybe I can help them,” said Stephanie. “I want to be able to continue in this sport and help them when I’m long gone.”

And for future runners and current runners, Stephanie gives some great advice she’s learned throughout the years.

“Make sure it’s fun for you at a young age. Don’t be too serious until it needs to be serious,” she advises. “Believe it or not, Illinois is the only state I’ve ever heard of with middle school state championships. If it’s not fun, you’re not going to want to do it.”

 

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