All-American on road to recovery eyes quick return

Amber White runs the distance medley on Friday, Feb. 6 in Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. Dana Roberson, Amber White, Kindra Emberton, and Emily Harris placed first in the womens distance medley.

Kristen Stacy/The Chart

Amber White runs the distance medley on Friday, Feb. 6 in Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. Dana Roberson, Amber White, Kindra Emberton, and Emily Harris placed first in the women’s distance medley.

It was an event she had done a thousand times before. Walking to the line, she prepared for her final run on the triple jump at the conference meet. She had an exact routine planned out: always eight steps with her plant foot, followed by the hop, skip and jump. During the first phase, something went wrong and she felt a pain in her leg.

“I knew immediately that she had either done something wrong or hurt herself,” said Denise White, who watched as her daughter competed.

Initially believing it was nothing more than a sprained ankle, Amber White, a Missouri Southern track athlete and 2014 All-American in the 400-meter, continued with her other events despite the swelling and bruising of her lower leg. It wasn’t until Monday when they returned from the meet that Amber received the actual diagnosis. First, doctors told her she had suffered three stress fractures; the final diagnosis was three stress reactions.

“I ran the 200 and the 400 the night after it started bruising really bad but I didn’t think anything of it,” said Amber. “After the final in the 200, I knew something wasn’t right. My whole ankle was bruised and it ran up through my shin.”

Denise added, “You could tell when she finished that the pain had gotten worse.”

In the face of the injury, Amber went on to qualify for nationals in the 400-meter, finishing second in conference.

“She ran her best time of the season, she qualified for nationals and she was able to score points for the team and that alone tells you a lot about her character,” said Southern head coach Pat Vavra. “Some of what she did was for her, but a lot of it was for the team, as well.”

Upon qualifying for nationals in the 400-meter, Amber, Vavra and the team trainer were in a dilemma — since it was her final chance to compete in the indoor nationals, they had to decide whether to allow her to compete. To Amber, quitting was never an option — she wanted to run.

“My family was pretty against it, my coach was on the fence, I feel like, and I was in the mindset of I am going to run no matter what because I have made it this far,” said Amber. “I’m pretty hard-headed.”

At nationals, Amber didn’t get the results she had hoped for, running her slowest 400 of the season.

“It says a lot about her fortitude, tenacity and character that she tried to reach the goals she had set for herself early in the season,” said Vavra.

This wasn’t Amber’s first time fighting through an injury in her track career. While in her senior year of high school, she won state in the triple jump and 400-meter. She had been dealing with a nagging injury throughout the season and decided to have it looked at after the finals. The results: She had a stress fracture in her back.

“I’m not sure I even understand Amber’s passion for track,” said Denise. “I don’t know very many people that would deal with that kind of pain to do what they love.”

It took Amber a long time to finally overcome that back injury.

“Her first two years of college track were a struggle because of the weakness in her back from that,” Denise said. “Once she figured out a few ways to help with that, she did everything she could to be as strong as she could be. She spends a lot of time making sure she is as strong and as healthy as she can be.  She works out and eats healthier than anyone I have ever met.”

Currently, Amber is rehabbing in hopes of competing this year in the outdoor season, which is already under way. Whether she will be able to is still up in the air, but she believes she can make it back.

“I really want to be able to compete this spring,” said Amber. “We will have to see.”