Written by Katie Morford Tuesday, 05 June 2012 12:34
Peabody-Burns alum Lauren Pickens won 12 state gold medals in her high school track career before signing with Wichita State University upon graduation. The sprinter was on pace to make her mark on the big stage this past track season.
But an unexpected illness forced a month-long hospital stay and dropped Pickens to redshirt status and out of competition.
“She managed to keep her grades up despite missing many classes,” said WSU sprints coach John Wise, “but the training she missed on the track was just too much to overcome.“
Back up to speed
Though illness may have sidelined?Pickens for a while, she said she’s getting back on her feet and ready to compete.
“My body went through a lot after I got out of being in the hospital,” she said. “I’m still transitioning back to my old self. I feel like I’m back to where I can compete and do a lot for WSU now.”
Pickens attributes her positive outlook and recovery to the support of friends and family, as well as her coaches and teammates at WSU.
“I appreciated my coaches and teammates sticking with me,” she said. “It was scary for me, I didn’t know what I was going through...
“I very much appreciated that they wanted me back on the track.”
Wise said he and the rest of the team focused on encouraging Pickens throughout her convalescence, saying that the staff is experienced at helping freshmen get through a variety of difficulties.
“She showed her toughness in dealing with her struggles all season,” Wise said. “I watched her a lot in high school and know how tough she is.”
Keeping the pace
Illness aside, Pickens said competing in track at the collegiate level puts a great more stress on the body than running in high school.
“Your body has to be able to tolerate more running every day, compared to running just three months out of the year,” she said. “In college you run all the way August through May. If you’re lucky, you can go longer that.”
Pickens said the first week of practice was especially difficult to get through because she was so tired.
“Mentally, it was a challenge at first for me,” she said. “It’s basically a mental game in your head that you have to win over your mind. You have to tell your body that you have to keep pushing through it.”
Her coaches’ expectations are higher as well.
“They treat us like adults now, not like children,” she said.
But Pickens said the challenge has been good for her, especially the opportunity to practice against top-level athletes.
“It feels great to not be the top dog, because it’s good for me to run with others,” she said. “They push me and I’m pretty sure I push them, too.”
They may have friendly competition in practice, but Pickens said her teammates come together when it counts, on and off the track.
“That’s what I love about WSU,” she said. “Everybody is encouraging and everyone has a good attitude.”
It’s an attitude that Pickens brings to the table as well, according to Wise.
“She is always positive and fun to be around and she is well-liked by her teammates,” he said. “She has brought a great work ethic and positive attitude that pushes her teammates in practice every day.”
Pickens isn’t cutting herself any slack because of her recent illness. She’s already setting goals for next year’s track season—and the Missouri Valley Conference meet is in her sights.
“I want to be in uniform and run for WSU,” she said. “Make them proud and help my teammates out.”
Wise said he expects Pickens to bring depth to the team in the sprint events and relays, but added they will be taking it one step at a time.
“We are still very excited to have her as a team member this year,” he said. “We are confident she will go on to have an outstanding career and the struggles of 2012 will be a distant memory.”
But for now, the memory of being sidelined is still fresh. Pickens said she stood and watched at the Missouri Valley meet this past season, wishing she could be running.
“I can’t wait to be there next year, “ she said. “My coach said, ‘That’s going to be you next year.’ And I actually believe that. It’s going to be me.”
Meanwhile, Pickens said, her loyal fans haven’t dropped out just because she hasn’t competed in a while.
“They’ll get a hold of me, or when I go back everyone knows who I am,” she said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Pickens has just one thing to say in return: “To my fans, I haven’t gone away. They’ll see me next year.”