Oct. 30, 2009
BY CHRIS WHITE
With two laps to go on in a 5K race at the 2008 SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Katie Van Horn was injured and in pain.
So much pain, in fact, that following the race she could not walk. A lot of people who were hurting like she was would have simply stopped.
No one would have blamed her if she had.
Instead, she kept running.
"I wanted to just walk off the track, but I'm just not one to quit," she said. "I had to finish."
Playing through pain is a part of being an athlete. Unfortunately, recovering from injuries is, too.
The road to recovery was a long one for Van Horn. Her injury occurred in May of 2008, and she was not able to run without being in pain until last November. This forced her to sit out every meet that fall. It's a six month period she tries to forget.
"I almost blocked that period of time out of my memory just because it was so miserable," she said. "I felt like I had all that training, all that preparation and it's almost like someone took the rug from underneath me and I fell on my face."
Van Horn went through months of physical therapy where she had to overcome more than just physical injuries.
"The mental barrier was a lot harder to get over than the physical. I really didn't think I would be able to run again without pain," Van Horn said. "It was always a matter of dealing with the pain and getting used to it."
Faced with that kind of adversity, along with dwindling eligibility, the opportunity to just become a full-time student and focus on academics was there for Van Horn.
But it never really crossed her mind.
"I never really saw it as an option not to run," she said. "I'm not one who's going to just abandon ship and leave. Yeah, it'd be nice to just focus on my academic work and not have to practice twice a day, but I'm not a quitter."
Van Horn's perseverance has paid off. She's emerged as one of the Lady Vols' top runners this season.
She ranks third in the SEC with a 6,000-meter time of 20:50. She's placed second on the team once, third two times and scored for Tennessee in 14 consecutive meets. Missing last season was hard for Van Horn, but she's thankful for the chance to compete for one more year.
"Not being able to run cross country last year, I wanted to be out there, I wanted to be racing with the girls," she said. "It's my senior year, it's my last year. I'm blessed to have the opportunity to come back."
The Lady Vols will need a strong performance from Van Horn at the SEC Championships this Saturday, as Tennessee aims for its first team title since a three-year streak from 2003-05.
Going into the meet, Van Horn says she's physically good to go.
"I wouldn't say 100 percent but close to 100 percent," she said. "I still have pain some days but overall, it's not completely healed but its close."
As a source of inspiration going into the final meets of her career, Van Horn looks to the past successes of former Lady Vols.
"There's a lot of history with the Lady Vols. Just looking in the front of Stokely (Athletic Center), walking down that hallway, you see all-Americans and what they accomplished," she said. "You see that history and it's inspirational. You see what they have done and you want to continue on with that success that they started."