Determination, indeed

Hats off to this lady. I’m competitive, almost to a fault, but I don’t think I could do what Claire Markwardt did.

ESPN High School has her story. Claire is a long-distance runner, and her high school cross country team was competing at the state finals. In the video, you’ll see her fall — this is where her left tibia broke. She gets up, and tries to continue running, causing her fibula to snap. Instead of giving up, however, she crawled to the finish line, determined to finish the race.

What Markwardt saw in the video might not be visible to the rest of us. She saw a teenage girl who, a year earlier, watched the state meet from the stands and made a personal commitment to run in that race in her senior year. She saw a girl who fulfilled that commitment, and then, with a badly broken leg 45 feet from the finish line, had a choice: Finish, or don’t finish.

To her, it was a no-brainer.

At the 1- and 2-mile markers, Markwardt was on a personal-best pace. Then, as she entered the stadium at Columbus’ Scioto Downs, with about 400 meters to go, she heard her left leg crack.

The leg had been sore on and off for the previous two weeks, prompting Berkshire coach Julie Cole to limit Markwardt in practice. When she heard the crack, Markwardt thought it was a muscle pull or tear. She thought she could gut it out to the finish line.

“There was a runner from one of our rival schools right in front of me,” she said. “I kept staring at the back of her jersey and pushing myself to catch her.”

But some 200 meters later, Markwardt heard the leg crack again. And again. Then there was a louder crack, and her entire leg gave out. She fell to the ground as onlookers winced at the sound and the sight of what happened.

One of Markwardt’s teammates, unaware of what had happened, encouraged her to get up. She tried, using her right leg. But as soon as she shifted weight to the left, the loudest crack yet came. And her leg gave out again.

“At that point, I knew what had happened. I knew my leg was broken pretty badly. And I knew I couldn’t get up again. So I started crawling,” she said.

She said she thought not of her coach, nor her parents, nor anyone else who had encouraged her to never give up, to see things to the finish. Instead, she thought of the countless stories she had heard about runners who collapsed before a race’s end and somehow found the courage to cross that last line. Even if her leg had given out at the 400-meter mark, she said, it wouldn’t have mattered. She was going to finish.

“They may not have let me, and it might not have been pretty, but I would have tried,” she said. “I had come so far. Our team had come so far. All season, we had been working for state, and now we were there. I was almost done, and there was no way I was going to let the team down.”

She finished the race with a time of 20:24.07, only :18 slower than her personal best. She finished in 67th place, helping to put her school in a fourth-place finish in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III championship.

“When I saw her crawling, I wanted to cry,” said Richard Markwardt, Claire’s father. “I was just so incredibly proud — as proud as any father could be.”

She apparently didn’t cry at all after the race, even as doctors fastened her leg into a splint. Her tibia was broken in multiple places, her fibula in one, and she was going to need surgery. But she’s been able to hold it together.

For all she’s gone through and all that lies ahead, Markwardt said she has broken down only twice: once on the hospital phone call to her sister, and once when she told coach Cole that she will miss the spring track season.

This Wednesday, when doctors asked her to rate her pre-surgery anxiety before the second procedure on her leg, she said, “Two.”

All this time later, after the surgeries and the recovery she has looming before her, she still says she wouldn’t have changed anything if she knew what the outcome would have been.

Runner or not, I don’t know anyone who couldn’t be inspired by Claire’s story. She has a level of determination and resolve that many adults are lacking, let alone teenagers. As far as I’m concerned, this is much more than just a story about running or sports, but a story of inspiration, hope, and what a person can achieve if they put their mind to it. (Besides, the world does not revolve around politics!)

Claire, I wish you the best of luck for a speedy recovery, and I hope you’re able to keep running in college. You’ve got the heart to make it far in whatever you choose, and we’re all pulling for you.

Hat Tip: Second Wind

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