Babcock Crosses The Finish Line Of Recovery
As a two-time All-American cross country runner at the University of Washington, Christine Babcock went around the block, over the river and through the woods during a highly successful beginning to her collegiate running career. That all changed in the summer of 2009 when Stenosing tenosynovitis, an inflammation of the tendon sheath that runs to the big toe, started to destroy her foot.
Now, after a grueling recovery, she has returned to the lineup to help the Huskies claim the NCAA West Regional for the third consecutive year and has catapulted her team into the NCAA Championship meet in Terre Haute, Ind. on November 22. Her journey from a down and out athlete to a key player in NCAA meets is nothing short of extraordinary.
"I went to so many doctors, and each time was a new diagnosis," said Babcock. "I was misdiagnosed for the first four months of this injury."
Babcock wasn't used to being out of the race.
Growing up in Irvine, Calif., Babcock saw her older sister Jessie run high school cross country, and followed quickly in her footsteps. Before anyone knew it, Babcock was off and running, setting national high school records in the 1500-meters and 1600-meters. She was also named the 2007 LA Times Track and Field Athlete of the Year, qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 1500m, and reached the semifinals where she placed 18th overall.
Her success didn't stop after high school.
Babcock earned All-American honors in each of her first two seasons at Washington and also was a two-time All-Pac-10 First Team honoree as a freshman and sophomore. She has balanced the All-Conference honors by earning Pac-10 All-Academic First Team honors in each of her three seasons.
"Christine is a glowing example of what college athletics are all about," said head coach Greg Metcalf.
It wasn't always that easy for Babcock.
Fighting a bout of homesickness and lack of sunlight made Babcock's freshman year a lot to deal with.
"I remember as a freshman I was like 'Where is the sun? I can't deal with this!'" said Babcock. "I even used to wear spandex under my jeans because it was so cold."
Now as a seasoned Seattle resident, Babcock has a different hurdle to overcome: herself.
In July 2009, Babcock was experiencing pain in her foot. Every week she would power through it for a meet, but it would take another week for her to recover. This process kept getting repeated over and over, until Babcock wasn't even enjoying the sport anymore.
"It was injury management," said Babcock. "Every time I went up to that line I knew it was going to be painful."
Eventually Metcalf decided that until her injury was figured out, Babcock wouldn't run. Babcock was told to see a chiropractor, but that had little effect. Next was an orthopedic approach, changing shoes a total of three times to see if it made a difference. It didn't. Throughout the process, Metcalf accompanied Babcock to and from appointments, as Babcock didn't have a car.
"As a coach it's our job to take care of the young people on our team," said Metcalf.
The sentiment didn't go unnoticed.
"As a parent it was comforting to know that he was there asking questions and just going that far for one of his athletes," said Kelly Babcock, Christine's mother.
Luckily, the long line of doctor's appointments came to an end. After months of uncertainty, Babcock's parents found a specialist at Stanford University who finally made a concrete diagnosis that could be treated back in Seattle.
"I was happy that UW was next to a major city like Seattle," said Kelly. "It makes things like this easier than a college in the middle of nowhere."
While the diagnosis had finally been made, the hard part was just getting started.
After three months of the wrong kind of rehab for the wrong diagnoses, Babcock was finally able to start working on recovery over the summer. To strengthen her foot, Babcock rehabbed by balancing on certain objects, such as tennis balls, and using large bands to help stretch her tendon.
"It was hard not knowing the time line for recovery," said Babcock. "I kept thinking 'When is this going to end?'"
Originally, Babcock's rehab responsibilities were five days a week, at two hours an appointment. As school came back into session, she had to cut down to three days a week to keep up with schoolwork.
"The hardest thing was trying to remain joyful," said Babcock. "It's hard not to get overwhelmed, but then you think there are people starving in Africa and the worst thing is I can't run. Not exactly the worst thing to have happen."
Even when she wasn't running, Babcock didn't slack off. As an early childhood and family development major, Babcock focused on tackling harder classes while out of commission.
"I may have bitten off a little more than I could chew," said Babcock. "But now with those classes out of the way, I'm taking classes where the reading isn't a chore. It's fun."
After recently being named First Team All-Pac-10 Academic Team with a 3.92 GPA, it is clear that overcoming those harder classes was yet another aspect of her determination for excellence. She hopes to use her degree to become an occupational therapist.
"I love working with kids," said Babcock. "I used to volunteer with kids that had Down syndrome and autism, and that's who I want to work with once I graduate."
Babcock spends time volunteering with ICEC, a nonprofit organization that serves over 600 special needs kids and their families on an annual basis.
Today, after months of rehabilitation, Babcock has finally been able to return to the sport she loves.
"The team was very excited," said Babcock of her return. "Coach Metcalf went out and spray painted a message on the practice run saying that I was coming back. There was lots of screaming and hugging."
Her performance at NCAA Regionals helped propel the team into fourth in the nation.
"It was truly one of the hardest races of I've ever run," said Babcock. "But it helped to have my teammates to rally around. The support I received was very humbling."
Babcock's dedication to her sport, her team and her future is truly a remarkable achievement.
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