The first injury was excruciating. The second was even worse.
They cost Carolyn Darr nearly two years of her high school athletic career.
Now, with just a few days left to compete, the Penns Valley senior is hoping to make the most of her final chance.
Darr has been on the comeback trail all spring, after tearing a ligament in her knee and then re-injuring the ligament on her first comeback attempt.
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The biggest test of how far she has made it will come Tuesday evening at Altoona’s Mansion Park, when she competes in the District 6 Class AA Track and Field Championships.
Darr will be among a slew of athletes battling for spots at the state championships. She has been there twice, and she wants one more shot at a medal.
“It’s been close to two years,” Darr said. “It’s really been a long haul for me. I’ve learned a lot through the whole process. I’ve had a lot of support from my friends and family, my coaches and teammates. It’s been immense, especially this season with the comeback.”
Darr was a three-sport athlete, excelling at them all. She played two seasons of soccer and two more of basketball, plus part of a third. On the track, she twice qualified for the PIAA meet as one of the fastest sprinters in the region. As a sophomore she was the District 6 champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes and twice was a part of the winning 4x100 relay team.
However, during the summer of 2011, she was a helping out at Penns Valley’s youth basketball camp, and one day the counselors had a scrimmage. Darr landed awkwardly on one play, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She had surgery, went through six months of rehabilitation and managed to return in time for the season opener for basketball.
But she only got into 10 games, averaging 5.9 points per game, before she was sidelined again after stretching the ACL. It required another round of surgery and even more rehab.
“I was completely devastated,” she said. “I thought the first time was really bad, but the second time was even worse because I was missing even more sports seasons, missing what I love doing.”
She missed two full seasons of soccer, and one full season each of track and basketball. This past winter, to ease the pain a little, she was a team manager and volunteer assistant coach.
“We were just really glad she was able to be a part of the team in some way,” Lady Rams basketball coach Andrea Borland said. “She never got down. She was like, ‘OK, this is what happened, I can’t erase what happened,’ and she got back up and kept fighting hard.”
It gave Darr a different perspective on the game, and like many other athletes who are stuck on the sideline for a long time and sit next to the coach, she got a better understanding of why a coach is telling players to do things.
“It was really hard for me to sit and watch, but I’ve learned a lot through it,” Darr said. “I became really optimistic and I could help my teammates. I see the field completely differently, and I could help them, critique them when they were doing something wrong. It’s been really tough but I was glad to still be a part of the team. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“There’s a whole other side to the learning curve when it comes to that,” Borland said.
While she has found plenty of joy on the soccer field and basketball court, it is track and field that will be taking her places.
She has been accepted as a preferred walk-on at the University of Delaware, and will be a sprinter for the Blue Hens track and field team. She plans to be a health and behavioral sciences major and hopes to get into physical therapy. It was her desire to study the field even before the injuries, but was solidified by her experiences of the last two years.
“After going through all my physical therapy, I’ve really come to like physical therapy, the atmosphere of the clinic and how caring my physical therapist was for me,” she said. “He was a great support system for me throughout the whole recovery. I just like the whole idea of helping people get back on their feet and reach their goals again.”
And, thanks to her time on the sidelines for basketball, she also has a desire to get into coaching — for some sport at some level.
“She knows the game pretty well,” Borland said. “She definitely has the leadership in her. I think that’s something I can definitely see her doing.”
Her leadership and team-first ethic stands out for all of her events, including on the track.
She faced a tough decision which of her events she would compete in for Tuesday’s district meet, having run the 100, 200 and 400 this year along with both the 400 and 1,600 relays. She chose the two relays along with the 100 and 200, in part to try to help more teammates qualify for the state meet.
“She’s all about team,” girls’ track and field coach Lynda Federinko said. “She not only wants to do what’s best for her, but what’s best for the team.”
Darr didn’t get the clearance to compete until two weeks before track season began, but she was hardly sitting around while stuck on the sideline. In addition to her rehab, she was lifting weights and working on her core — made obvious by her well-defined arms and shoulders and a point of obvious pride for her.
She had done some informal runs with some of her track teammates over the winter, and comparing her times then to what she used to run provided a little incentive to work out even harder.
“That’s when she realized she had a lot of work to do,” Federinko said. “She really stepped it up.”
She is still a bit off her best times from before the injury, but not far.
Her fastest time in the 100 in 2011 was 12.74 seconds, and she ran a 12.80 to win the district title and a 12.85 at the state meet. This year her top time is a hand-held 12.7, which compares to a 12.94 for electronic timing.
In the 200 two years ago, her best time was 25.99, with a 26.01 at the district meet and 27.00 at PIAAs. This year her top hand-held time is 26.4.
At the West Central Coaches Invitational in Altoona on May 3, which is often a good barometer of what to expect at districts, Darr finished second in the 100 in 13.40, third in the 200 in 27.17 and third in the 400 in 1:00.76.
While she continues to run the shorter sprints, Federinko had Darr running the 400 to help with endurance, and it became a strength.
“She is not the type of kid that likes to sit,” Federinko said. “She has to be busy. She’s not one that I have to talk to that she needs to step up in practice. She pushes every single day, even in the offseason.”
“She’s always been a hard worker, always been someone that puts in the time and has the work ethic,” Borland said. “She wants to do well. That’s her, that’s her personality.”
Running straight down a track, or even around the track’s turns, are one thing, but Darr admits she is still a little scared the next time she tries to play basketball, with all the cuts, turns and pressure on her knee.
“I’m not 100 percent sure of what my knee can do,” Darr said. “It happened to me twice. I really do miss it.”
On Tuesday, she gets to find out what she can do on the track — and if she can once again be the fastest girl in the district.
“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to it since last year and I see I have some great competitors to face this year.”