Ending the Year on Top
What a journey runner Tessa Barrett traveled during her just-completed junior year at Abington Heights.
The way it ended was great as Barrett was named the Times-Tribune Female Athlete of the Year for all she accomplished.
"I was surprised," Barrett said. "It's such an honor. There are so many talented athletes in the region."
Her junior year began with a dominating regular season in cross country, with Barrett setting six course records along the way.
"It was a good year," Barrett said. "It was a little rough at the end of the cross country season."
That tough patch included a significant injury that occurred in the District 2 Class AAA Championships at Elk Lake, something that could have derailed the rest of her junior year.
"I broke my femur, a hairline fracture," Barrett said. "I was running through some mud and had an awkward landing with all the pressure on my [left] leg."
All the hard work that left her the dominant figure in the Lackawanna League cross country season went for naught, nothing but dreams and thoughts of "woulda-coulda-shoulda." Instead, she had worries that she might not get back to the level she showed that fall.
"I was on crutches for two months and running after 12 weeks," Barrett said. "I was doing rehab."
There was a lot of uncertainty for Barrett, many questions going through her mind while she was trying to get over the injury.
"It was a little scary," she said. "I didn't know if I was going to be able to run competitively again. I really didn't know what to expect. I guess I was very lucky with my rehab."
In order to lessen the burden on her leg, Barrett took to the pool, a little therapy and exercise designed to keep her legs strong as she protected her femur from the constant pounding that running can do to a body.
The mixing of water and land kept her in reasonably good shape throughout her rehab, allowing her to gradually return to running over the early part of 2013.
"Instead of running for 40 minutes, I would only run 20, and go for 20 minutes in the pool," Barrett said.
When she got back to competing, she had fears that she might not be able to return to the high level she had showed last fall. One thing she wasn't concerned about was her desire. The time off her feet proved her love for the sport.
"It's my passion. I love it," Barrett said. "It was a difficult time, when I couldn't do any running."
With the indoor season going on, she had an outlet to strive for, something to pursue, trying to answer any questions of self-doubt.
She picked up where she had left off, running well during the indoor track season, showing her that she hadn't lost a step but, more importantly, that her motivation was intact. The passion hadn't gone away.
"I was happy to run, even if I didn't run fast," Barrett said. "I was shocked. I didn't know what kind of shape I would be in; I was just happy to be there."
She ran a 10:02 to qualify for the state coaches association meet in the 3,000 meters, giving her confidence for the future.
"Being in the pool was a precaution," Barrett said. "I really want to run in college, but I had to gradually increase my distance"
For someone accustomed to doing 20 miles a week, the pool time was a necessary evil to make sure all was well with her leg.
In the state indoor meet, she was again just happy to be running at all. She ended up setting a record.
"I was surprised with my time, 9:47. It was very unexpected," Barrett said.
Barrett ran an indoor 5,000, placing in the top five, which confirmed what her instincts had told her. She hadn't lost a thing because of her injury and recovery period. It also reaffirmed her love for the sport.
"It put it in a new perspective, which is pretty cool," Barrett said. "I was just looking to lower my times, do the best I could," Barrett said. "I was pleased with my performance and I stayed healthy. I got lucky that I got some rest over the winter."
The spring meant more outstanding times for the junior, who led the Lady Comets to Lackawanna League and District 2 team titles, as well as much individual success. Again, not training to her typical standards, she relished the chance to make the best of her limited running time.
"I felt a little more comfortable to do some more running," Barrett said. "I had to do quality workouts, intense, but shorter workouts."
There was one constant, one driving attitude that set the tone for her season.
"I wanted to keep improving my time," Barrett said. "I was excited to see what I could do."
So was everybody else, who was treated to outstanding performances by Barrett. She set a record in the 1600 in the Robert Spagna Championship meet and then set a District 2 Class AAA meet record in the 3200 by chopping nearly 20 seconds off the old record.
Her year finally ended at the PIAA Championships with a silver medal in the 3200, capping off a busy, eventful year with the second-place finish that is sure to drive her even more next year.
That's when, barring another injury, she'll continue to extend her training distances closer to the schedule she ran before suffering her injury.
She may fare even better, chasing down a college choice as she amasses quite a resume.