Injuries had sidelined her racing for 14 months.
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
September 7, 2012, was supposed to be a good day for Sally Kipyego.
Racing the 5000m at the Van Damme Memorial Diamond League meeting in Brussels, Kipyego was ready to finish her outdoor track season with a solid race. The summer had been great: in June she’d finished second at the Kenyan Olympic Trials 5000m and third in the 10,000m, earning two spots on the starting line at the London Olympic Games. In London she’d go on to win a silver medal in the 10,000m, then returned to Olympic Stadium seven days later to place fourth in the 5000m. It had really been a dream season for the Marakwet native.
Then came the 5000m in Brussels. With 200 meters remaining, Kipyego was trying to chase down Kenyan compatriots Vivian Cheruiyot and Mercy Cherono. Everything seemed fine until Kipyego entered the home stretch, where she began to pull up, visibly in pain after taking an awkward step.
“I knew I had broken something, I didn’t know exactly what,” Kipyego told Race Results Weekly in an exclusive phone interview on Tuesday. “I finished the race but I was basically walking at the end.”
MRI and CT-Scans would reveal a broken Calcaneus bone in her left heel. Kipyego’s season had come to a devastating end.
“It was tough. It was tough because I had such a wonderful year and such a great Olympic experience and I was ready to end the season basically in Brussels,” she said, briefly pausing. “It was a freak accident, really, and came out of nowhere. It was surprising and caught me off guard and I wasn’t expecting anything like that. It was hard.”
In the months following the injury, Kipyego would regularly visit physical therapists in Eugene, Ore., performing rehab exercises and aqua jogging. But in April of 2013, just as the looming track season became visible on the horizon, Kipyego’s Calcaneus bone broke again. At that point she decided it was best to take time completely off and let the weight-bearing bone heal.
Gone was the 2013 track season, as well as any hopes of competing at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. The thought of missing the season crushed Kipyego, especially because she had won a World Championships silver medal in Daegu in 2011.
“It was sad. I struggled to accept the fact and deal with the fact that I missed an entire season and the World Championships this year,” said the 27-year-old who competes fr the Nike-sponsored Oregon Track Club Elite. “But I also am grateful that it happened after the Olympics. Three years is a long time to wait for another Olympics. At least I got injured after the Olympic year.”
That glass-half-full attitude has helped Kipyego in the months since April. After taking time off and being away from the sport, the Texas Tech alum realized just how much she loved running. A new-found point of view had emerged from the injury.
“I’m very excited and thrilled to be running again. What this year has given me is a different perspective. I appreciate it more and I realize how fortunate I’ve been over the years of my career,” she said. “I appreciate it more now. Now I certainly look forward to competing more.”
On November 2nd, Kipyego will make her return to racing at the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5-K in New York City, held one day before the ING New York City Marathon. Not having laced up her racing flats in over 14 months, Kipyego is both anxious and excited.
“I don’t know what to anticipate. I have been training well and I feel in shape,” she said. “Training can be deceiving sometimes because you train well and unless you put yourself in a position to compete, a race is different.” She continued: “Until I run that first race and get a feeling of things and allow myself to compete again, it’s going to be different. Anything can come out of it.”
Mark Rowland, who coaches Kipyego as part of the Nike Oregon Track Club Elite program, has developed a meticulous plan for helping her to get back to her 2012 racing form while staying healthy. So far, he is encouraged with what he’s seen.
“Things are going great,” Rowland said in a telephone interview. “The test of a champion is how they deal with adversity. We’ve been very very deliberate and methodical in making sure we underplay things; we are not in full training. She’s healthy and she’s doing everything we’ve set out to do, but we are coming up with a different method of training.”
Rowland described the recovery and return to training like building blocks: one step at a time while not pushing the limits.
“It’s a method of reviewing and assessing what she’s done,” he said.
A big step for both Kipyego and Rowland will be her race in New York. The chance to compete against top athletes like Shalane Flanagan, Emily Infeld and Molly Huddle will help the pair determine the next steps that need to be taken.
“I have to start somewhere. I am just going to go out there and use it to gauge my fitness and come back and re-evaluate, see where we are and see what we’re working with,” said Kipyego.
When asked if her 2012 Olympic silver medal serves as any motivation to keep pushing, Kipyego instantly brings up the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. Those games are serving as motivation to not only stay healthy, but return to her 2012 racing form.
“It’s a long way, one day at a time, but everything is for the ultimate goal to get to Rio. Get to Rio healthy,” she said, emphasizing the word healthy. “If I get to Rio healthy then anything is possible. The goal is to stay healthy the next few years to get that opportunity again.”