Sprinter Haylie Bolan knows running tonight will likely be painful. She lives with it every day.
Over the past year, the pain became her unlikely ally. It showed her how much she loves to race. Tonight, she gets that chance again when Wichita State opens its indoor track and field season at the Heskett Center in the Varsity Apartments Invitational.
"I'm going to be excited, and it's going to be a good kind of nervous," she said. "It's been a long time since I competed and I've been really craving that adrenalin rush."
Bolan, a sophomore from South High, last raced in a meet in May 2008, when she finished sixth in the NAIA national outdoor meet in the 100- and 200-meter dashes as a freshman at Friends University. She transferred to WSU looking for more competition. Instead, chronic compartment syndrome in her legs and illness kept her out of practice and meets in 2009. Bronchitis struck one day before last season's first indoor meet, and Bolan eventually had her tonsils removed.
She worked out in a swimming pool at the Heskett Center and in the small water-therapy pool in the Koch Arena training room. She lifted weights. She made herself useful at practice by recording times and filming. All the while, she watched her teammates compete and wished for the chance to join them. Feelings of burnout faded.
"It was kind of like a blessing in a disguise," she said. "Training gets really repetitious. When you're practicing so hard you feel sick afterward, you're so tired and frustrated with it."
A season on the sidelines changed that attitude.
"You realize, 'Wow, I wish I was running. I hate this,' " she said. "It's worth all the pain and trouble."
Bolan must live with compartment syndrome, a compression of nerves, muscle and blood vessels within a closed space in the body. She can't heal the problem, but she can stop the tightness and tingling sensations from getting worse. She does modified workouts to limit the pain. Three times a week, a physical therapist pushes and grinds on her legs with metal bars to break down scar tissue and adhesions.
"My legs hurt all the time when I walk — they always feel like they're cramped up," she said. "Sometimes it gets real rough when I'm walking to class."
Bolan reached the point where she realized it was time to learn to deal with the pain and the frustration.
"It's not better," she said. "But since it's not going to get better, I'm ready to run."
Bolan ran the 100 in 12.16 seconds and the 200 in 24.79 in the NAIA meet. She will need to run faster to score points for WSU, and sprints coach John Wise said she is capable. Her testing time in a 30-meter acceleration is the fastest (4.21 seconds) in the program's history.
"We knew then she was capable of running in our league," Wise said. "We know it's there — it's just going to be a matter of getting it to come out in a race."
By the outdoor season, Wise expects Bolan to join sophomore Audacia Moore and freshman Shamoya Pruitt and strengthen what has been a weakness in the sprints. Pruitt and Bolan ran together at South and are close friends.
"We have the best, or one of the best, groups in the conference," Wise said. "And they're all young still, so they're going to be together for awhile and hopefully doing a lot of damage in the Valley."