Bouncing back from despair

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Vanatta ready to move past injuries

By Dan Johnson

The warm-up run did not go well.

Kaitie Vanatta desperately wanted to join her Dakota Ridge cross-country teammates at the starting line of the 2008 Class 5A state cross-country meet at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins, but her legs wouldn’t comply.

The senior had been trying to run through the pain for close to two years now. Some days, her legs felt good and didn’t send waves of pain rushing through her body. But, when they were hurting, there was little Vanatta could do to alleviate the discomfort.

So, instead of concluding her high school career with one final run at state, the two-time 4A state champion (she holds a pair of track state titles in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races as well from her two years spent at Ralston Valley) was forced to withdraw from the race just minutes before the starting gun fired.

This wasn’t the way things were supposed to end. But, don’t expect Vanatta to shed tears over the difficulties she’s endured.

Her outlook is positive, especially now that she finally knows why she was experiencing so much pain.

After initially thinking her pain and discomfort was due to a series of stress fractures, Vanatta finally came to realize the real cause of her distress: Compartment Syndrome.

Compartment Syndrome is a painful condition that results when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels. This prevents nourishment from reaching nerve and muscle cells. In Vanatta’s case, her calves were too full.

Vanatta had surgery to alleviate the fluid buildup in both calves. While she’s uncertain when, or if, she’ll run a full track and field schedule this season, she at least is comforted by the fact that she can now train without hesitation.

“It’s actually a pretty common injury amongst runners,” Vanatta said. “I’m so happy to have finally figured out what was causing all my pain. The doctors have said that I’ll be able to train without pain once I heal, and I’m very much looking forward to that.”

Running is a common bond throughout the Vanatta household. Both her parents run and her older brother, Kurt, had a very successful career at Ralston Valley.

Kaitie began running in 7th-grade and quickly found out she had a knack for the sport. After winning those two state cross-country titles, Vanatta was hailed as the next great Colorado runner. She never got caught up in the hype and doesn’t look at the last two years as disappointing or missed opportunities.

For Vanatta, running serves multiple purposes.

Whether it be an escape from the hustle-and-bustle of school and life, the sense of accomplishment from starting and finishing a run, or developing a closer connection to her faith, running is truly a passion for Vanatta.

One that she can now experience pain-free.

“I learned so much about myself,” said Vanatta, who despite the pain in her legs, finished second behind teammate Alexa Rogers in 2007 at state, helping the Eagles win the 5A team title. “It was a very positive learning experience for me. I found a new love for the sport and life.”

She’s also looking forward to attending college in the fall.

While she was unable to run at her full potential the past two years because of the Compartment Syndrome, she was still able to sign with a Division I school. She’ll attend the University of Missouri and run cross-country and track.

“I’m really looking forward to college,” said Vanatta, who is debating between majoring in pre-med or journalism. “The coaches at Missouri are really great and I can’t wait to join the team.”