McConnell returns from injury to run in the pack

by C.J. Spang

After the 2004 cross country season, Minnesota runner Harper McConnell took the usual two weeks off before training for the upcoming track season.

As she began training, her Achilles’ tendon started to hurt, and she went to see the trainer.

McConnell was diagnosed with an inflamed Achilles’ tendon and was suddenly out indefinitely.

But after a tough time fighting through the injury, the cross country captain has come back to be a front-runner on the 2005 Minnesota team.

She started cross-training immediately after her diagnosis and quickly felt she could run again.

“It would start feeling a lot better,” McConnell said. “So I’d start running on it and it would get so much worse.

“It would go through cycles like that and it was really discouraging at times.”

But the senior tri-captain stuck it out, even though it meant hours on the stationary bike while her teammates ran.

“Coming inside and working out every single day for two hours is every runner’s worst nightmare,” senior Lauren Williams said. “But it shows the younger runners that you can work through injuries if you have a positive attitude.”

After six months of rehabilitation, McConnell was able to run in one race at the end of the 2005 track season.

“You know that old adage of showing is better than telling,” coach Gary Wilson said. “A lot of kids can talk, but when you’ve got to be on the bike like that, that’s why she’s at the top – the tough ones like that are a huge inspiration.”

With the injury behind her, McConnell has shined as the team’s fourth runner, improving her times with each race.

“I think her race at the (Roy Griak Invitational) started to show her potential,” Williams said.

Teammate Ladia Albertson-Junkans quickly pointed out: “Harper is our key to winning the Big Ten title, because every bit she moves up, she’s going to pull the rest of the team up with her.”

McConnell knows how important it is to her team for her to move closer to the top three runners, but it doesn’t create any extra pressure.

“After every race I say to (coach) Wilson, ‘I need to close that gap more if we’re going to win Big Ten,’ ” McConnell said. “It definitely drives me all the time.”

That drive and her positive attitude are her defining characteristics, according to her coach and teammates.

Come race day, she is always focused, but unlike many runners who clam up, McConnell is known for her lighthearted attitude and ability to ease the pre-race tension of her teammates.

And it is those characteristics – the ones that no coach can teach – that make her such an integral part of the team’s success.

“There’s always going to be that kid that’s going to be the glue that holds the team together,” Wilson said. “She’s

got a great way about her and her perspective of, ‘I’m going to try my hardest, I’m not giving up,’ is what brings the team together.”