One Final Hurdle

Oct. 16, 2004

by Michael Bruscas

When running cross country, every road is a long one -- some, though, have traveled longer roads than others.

The road for Laura Halverson has been fraught with detours of injury and doubt, but through her own toughness and determination, the Husky senior is back on course with a school record in hand and newfound confidence in her stride.

A native of the Eastern Washington city of Mica, Halverson's high school credentials included three 1A state cross country championships and three state track titles. After crossing the state to UW, Halverson worked herself into a young nucleus of five freshmen who occupied all but two of the Huskies' top seven spots in 2001, before a stress fracture hampered her freshman track campaign.

After running fifth on the squad at the 2002 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Halverson was ready for a return to the track in '03. A far more serious setback, however -- the implosion of a disk between two vertebrae in her back --knocked Halverson out of action again, this time for more than five months. Any hope of a return was in serious jeopardy, and her road to recovery was looking long, indeed.

'One of the doctors said I'd probably never really run again,' she says. 'I almost quit.'

Still feeling pain from the injury, Halverson returned gingerly to the course in the fall of 2003, competing in only a handful of cross country events while struggling mentally, as well as physically.

'Last year was bumpy for me,' she says. 'I didn't run that much and I was really inconsistent and mentally weak.'

The training required to rehabilitate her back left Halverson isolated from the rest of the team, facing the challenge on her own. She ran less frequently, opting instead for lower-impact pool workouts. While she may have trained alone, however, Halverson always kept the team first in her mind.

'I have a little thing on my steering wheel that [assistant coach] Kelly Strong gave me that lists the dates of our big meets,' she says. 'I just put it there as a reminder that I'm doing this for my team and they need me. It helps me to train.'

Slowly but surely, Halverson began to feel the strength building in her body once again. More important than the physical recovery, however, was regaining her mental focus.

'Most of me coming back over the last year was just regaining confidence and believing I could race again,' she says. 'I feel like I didn't really get back to good racing shape until outdoor track season last year.'

On the track, Halverson's specialty is the steeplechase, a 3,000-meter event that challenges runners to clear 35 hurdles, seven of which feature large water pits. Finally back near full strength, Halverson broke out on the track last year, setting a new school record in the steeplechase and placing fourth at the Pac-10 Championships.

'I'm proud of myself,' she says. 'I've had five or six MRIs in the last year and a half and a lot of my recovery I did on my own. It's pretty cool to be a record holder at UW; it was a big confirmation of how hard I've worked.'

That confirmation proved to be a turning point for Halverson in the classroom as well. Having enrolled at Washington with two years of college credit from her high-school work, Halverson was on track to graduate early, and had always planned to forego her senior seasons after earning her degree. Head Coach Greg Metcalf, however, wasn't ready to let his record-holder go, and had urged her to apply for graduate school.

'I decided to only apply at UW, and if I didn't get in, I wasn't going to run or go to school,' she says. 'I was going to take a year off.'

Halverson learned of her acceptance just days before setting the Huskies' steeplechase mark.

'Suddenly, I thought, 'Well, maybe I can do it. Maybe I can run fast again,'' she recalls.

Her coaches certainly think she can, naming Halverson a co-captain along with fellow senior Lindsey Egerdahl. Halverson's comeback efforts are not lost on Egerdahl.

'Laura has overcome some amazing things and she had to prove it by herself when everyone else might have doubted her,' Egerdahl says. 'She is by far the toughest girl on our team.'

Halverson's experiences have led her towards the field of sports nutrition for her grad school studies, and to the offices of Suzanne Steen, UW director of sports nutrition, who Halverson calls 'my mentor.'

Of her pupil, Steen has been equally impressed, saying of Halverson, 'She has done a great job balancing her duties as an athlete and as a student in biology. She's bright, enthusiastic, and very motivated.'

For now, Halverson has one last push to make with the Huskies.

'We believe we're a top-10 team,' she says. 'As seniors we want to be able to say that we built this team into a top-10 program; it'll be up to the next generation to keep it there consistently.'

Her long road almost finished, her hurdles cleared, Laura Halverson is poised for a strong finishing kick.

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