Healed and Hungry

Senior distance runner Kaitlyn Belisle looks to turn her luck around as she trains prior to her return to the Southern team after back-to-back injury shortened seasons.

Terri-Lynn Frasher | The Chart

Senior distance runner Kaitlyn Belisle looks to turn her luck around as she trains prior to her return to the Southern team after back-to-back injury shortened seasons.

Matt Barney, Sports Writer

Senior cross country runner Kaitlyn Belisle is set to return to competition tomorrow at the Southern Stampede for the first time in over a year. Belisle suffered a stress fracture in her leg last season in her first month back, after sustaining the same injury the year before. Belisle hopes to regain the success she had as a junior when she was an All-MIAA, All-Central Region and Academic All-American honoree.

“When I found out I had a stress fracture in my leg during indoor track in 2013, it was really frustrating, said Belisle. “When cross country started last year, I was in the best shape of my life, and after the first race went so well it didn’t seem like I wasn’t running for months before that.”

After months of rehab to get back in shape, she was back on top —until it happened again.

“Only a month into the season and I was back in the same boat with the same stress fracture,” she said. “I sat out the whole season, and I felt like I let my team down.”

But she didn’t give up, she kept training, and now she’s back and ready for a big year.

“Kaitlyn is a very hard worker; she does all the little things right that you have to do to become a great distance runner,” said head coach Patty Vavra. “She’s very committed and her lifestyle really supports her success as a distance runner, and that’s what you have to do to be successful at this level.”

Belisle’s work ethic and mental toughness have always been her calling cards as an athlete.

“Ever since I started running in junior high, I knew it would always be a struggle. The fact that it’s more of an individual sport made me want to stick with it, not only to prove to myself that I was capable, but to everyone else who thought I’d never go far with it,” she said. “It has never been something I was gifted at, nor have I always been good at it. I don’t think I was built with the ideal runner body, and I surely can’t turn over very fast either. But to everyone who hasn’t seen me run in the past, they believe that it comes easy to me and that I’m just talented. What most don’t realize is my strongest asset as an athlete isn’t my physical ability, it’s my mental ability. It’s a lot easier to give up than it is to hold a pace that hurts, but that’s where I had to change my mindset to be competitive.”

Belisle’s coaches and teammates praise her ability on the course and believe she is in store for another big season as long as she can stay on the track.

“If she can stay healthy, she has the capability to be an All-American,” said assistant coach Jamie Burnham. “She qualified for outdoor nationals last year off of just a few months of training, so with the great summer she had, she is ready to do great things this year.”

“My main goal is to stay healthy and listen to my body,” Belisle said. “I’d rather take a day off than to sit out the whole season again. Since this is my last year I really want to finish it out strong and run well under 18:00 which would be a PR [personal record] for cross country. I also have goals for the team. We have a solid pack that can win conference and qualify for nationals, and it’d be really exciting to make that happen.”

Belisle not only helps the team by doing the things that have garnered her so many honors on the course, but she also helps the team stay loose and keeps them entertained with her great sense of humor. When she’s not training, she likes to watch YouTube videos of hamsters eating miniature burritos.

“Kaitlyn creates a relaxed atmosphere with being goofy, but she knows when it is time to be serious,” said teammate Dora Eastin. “She is a great example to follow when it comes to being determined and focused.”

Belisle and the rest of the team kick off their season with the Lions home event, the Southern Stampede, tomorrow morning at 8 a.m.