During a hard run, Morgan Haney feels a moment of trepidation with the slightest hint of pain.
“When I do a harder workout and I feel a pain in that spot, I worry,” the Decatur junior runner said. “I tell myself, ‘Don’t think about it.'”
Haney is quickly putting behind her any worry of another injury derailing her again as she tries to get her running career back to the heights she experienced as a freshman.
The junior is running strong as she and teammates were set to run a two-mile time trial Saturday at Decatur High School. The trials will decide the varsity runners for the 4×2-mile relay at Southlake Carroll Aug. 25.
“I’m focused on getting my times back to where I was,” Haney said. “I’m pushing myself to make the team and myself happy and to reach our goals.”
As a freshman, Haney sprinted on the scene, finishing 12th in the Class 3A race at the state meet for the runner-up Lady Eagles. Haney finished the grueling 3,200-meter state course in 12 minutes and 12 seconds.
Her sophomore year, she looked to build on that strong debut. She opened the season with a 12:31 at the Marcus I Invitational. But it would be the last run she made at full strength for nearly two months.
“We go to Marcus I, and she runs strong,” said Decatur coach David Park. “Then bam! The next race she ran was Reunion.”
Haney felt a sharp pain in her back. Back problems weren’t new to her as she’s run and cheered with scoliosis. But doctors discovered the cause of the pain was a small fracture in her lower back.
“It was an old fracture probably from cheering,” Haney said. “I don’t remember a specific incident.”
The injury kept her sidelined until two meets before district and gave her little time to prepare for what Park calls the championship season – district, regionals and state. In cross country missed time training costs time in races.
“That’s the tough thing about our sport,” Park said. “In a lot of the game sports, you come off injury and it takes only a couple of weeks to get back in there and up to speed. In cross country, you can’t replace a month of not being able to train. You start racing with a handicap.”
Haney came back to run a 13-flat at Reunion. She followed it up by knocking 10 seconds off her time at Haltom City in the final tuneup before district. At the district meet, she was the team’s fifth runner, finishing in 12:59.
“It was hard,” Haney recalled. “I started the season good, and then the injury never let me get to my potential.
“It messed up the whole year because by the time I was back it was already the championship season.”
At the state meet, Haney put together one of her top runs of the season, finishing 53rd in 13:14. As the fourth Lady Eagle, she helped the team to a third-place finish.
“No one ran to their full potential [at state],” Haney said. “But I ran better. I was still progressing. When you start getting back in shape, you can take more time off.”
Park also saw that she was starting to get back to form when the season ended.
“She didn’t get the time to get fit and to that level where she could perform at a high level,” Park said. “She just ran out of time.”
To make sure she avoids injury this year, Haney said she’s spent time working to strengthen her core and back.
“It still bothers me, but I’m hoping to continue to strengthen my back,” she said. “There’s no real pain so far.”
Haney continues to balance running with cheering. Park said they are trying get her regular treatment to keep her healthy.
“It’s tough with all she’s doing,” he said. “She’s looking good. We’ve learned how to continually treat the back, so it doesn’t get to the point of last year.”
Haney also is being asked to take a leadership role on a suddenly young team. The Lady Eagles graduated four of their top seven runners from last year. As a junior, she’ll likely be the oldest runner on the course for the Lady Eagles most weeks.
Haney has been named one of the team’s captains.
“It’s weird because it’s usually the seniors that are captains,” Haney said. “I’ve got to step up and show the younger girls what they need to be doing.”
She said the past seniors were good models for her to follow in her new role.
Park doesn’t expect her to have a problem leading.
“She’s the one with the experience,” he said. “She’s got to lead the others. It’s a role you’ve got to grow into. But she’ll be fine.”
Haney can impart an appreciation for the sport along with a knowledge of how quickly you can be derailed. She also can serve as an example of how to keep battling back.