It’s been nearly two years since sophomore Samantha Tran competed in a meet due to a season-ending injury last year and delays due to COVID-19.

On Nov. 14, she enters the final stretch of the Women’s Elite/Open 6K race at the Cross Country Town USA Meet of Champions in Terre Haute, Ind. While her teammates have raced on this course several times, this is Tran’s first collegiate race and she can feel the pressure building. 

But Tran has faced far worse and come out on top, and she knows that this is her opportunity to show that she can race at a higher level. Tran musters every ounce of energy she can in the waning seconds and ends up placing 17th among some of the top runners in the country. She’s back for good.

For Tran, it’s the culmination of a difficult path to recovery following a stress reaction in her left femur that left her on crutches for two months.

“I was on crutches for a while and that was pretty tough because I wasn’t able to train,” Tran said. “I really wasn’t able to do much at all. … It was pretty intense rehabbing, and there were some times I remember I was wondering if I would be able to get back to the same shape where I was previously. 

“I was literally building from the ground up, I had lost all my muscle mass from being on those crutches because I wasn’t using my legs at all, so that was tough.”

But Tran persisted throughout her recovery, and after getting off her crutches, she was able to renew her passion for the sport.

“Once I started to get running a little bit, then I could kind of feel my energy and love for the sport come back,” Tran said. “Even going on my little 10-minute jogs, I would make the most out of them, I’d have a smile on my face during the whole time.”

After healing, she was met with more bad news when COVID-19 disrupted the track and field season. As a result, she missed out on her opportunity to finally train with the rest of the team and instead spent the rest of freshman year at home.

But Tran remained optimistic throughout her injury and the pandemic, and she made the most out of her situation.

“In a sense, COVID is a blessing in disguise, because in March when it all happened COVID did give me a little extra time to prepare for my goals, especially coming off of my injury,” Tran said. 

“I was able to refocus and focus on the important things, which for me was staying healthy, staying injury-free, getting stronger, and getting fitter. So I took that time during the early spring to get back down to my roots and just become the runner I am now.”

With this season back on track, Tran looks to build the relationships that she missed out on last year.

“I’ve really been happy with the work I’ve been able to put in with the girls and like the actual training I have been able to do and just kind of like the team camaraderie that I wasn’t able to experience my freshman year,” Tran said.

Though she was able to get back into her training mindset, she still hadn’t competed for nearly two years, but that ended with her recent performance at the meet in mid November. She used the opportunity to challenge herself after she trained well with the team during the summer, and she looked forward to seeing how she matched up with runners across the country.

Going forward, Tran and the rest of the team’s focus lies on the ultimate goal: winning an NCAA championship at nationals next march. 

“It’s always been a goal of ours to take home the national title,” Tran said. “So hopefully we can be in contention for that in March and bring home the win for (Michigan coach Mike McGuire) and make the team proud.

“In preparation for nationals, I’m just refocusing and rebuilding on the little stuff, whether it’s strength training, and I’m kind of building fitness. The main goal going into nationals, and it has always been for Michigan and our women’s cross-team, is to become a stronger pack and to run with each other, train with each other, and race with each other.”

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