DES MOINES, IOWA (25-Jun) -- A year and a day ago in Eugene, Ore., Lauren Fleshman failed to show up on the starting line of the 5000m at the USA Outdoor Championships. Plagued by a series of mechanical problems stemming from a broken navicular bone in her foot that spawned other injuries, the 2006 USA 5000m champion scratched from the race, unable to compete. She seriously considered retiring at 27.
"If you'd have talked to me 12 months ago I was ready to, I don't know, open up a shoe store or something else," Fleshman said after winning her second national 5000m title here tonight. "Move to another state. I was very frustrated." ...
... Fleshman's return to the top was painstaking. She said that she had to totally reinvent herself by changing her form, strengthening weak muscles, but most of all taking things one step at a time. She said that she couldn't put together four weeks of training without getting reinjured.
"I had to first take it day by day, never think more than one day at a time, never get frustrated, try not to think about how good I had been," she said. "It's really all about learning to live in the moment, which is hard to do." She added: "I just reinvented myself from the ground up with help."
That help came from a chiropractor named Dr. Ted Forcum and a physical therapist named Robyn Pester, Fleshman said. "'I need to start over and I need you two guys to help me,'" Fleshman recalled telling them. "And they did. They were the first two to jump on board helping me."
Fleshman won a trail run last September in Bend, Ore., then a road 5-K last October. She didn't step on the track again until last April when she won the low-key Oregon Relays 5000m in 15:42.46, giving her a qualifying mark for tonight's meet. She also ran a special 1500m race for elite athletes held at the Oregon State high school championships, clocking 4:12.30. Arriving at Drake Stadium this afternoon, she wasn't completely sure she was ready to mix it up with the other contenders.
"There was a big part of me which wasn't sure, but there was this little part of me which felt that I might be able to win it," she said. "And that scared the crap out of me."
While her victory in 2006 was satisfying, Fleshman said it had far less meaning than tonight's.
"This one is so sweet," she said, her eyes growing misty. "I mean, I don't know how else to put it."