NEW PALESTINE — Sarah Schwartz couldn’t help but survey the situation limb by limb.
Putting on her warmups after completing her third career Hoosier Heritage Conference Cross-Country Meet, the New Palestine senior made note of each leg, every step and any hint of discomfort.
Schwartz isn’t made of glass, but after countless injuries the past few years she never takes anything for granted.
“I’ve had such bad luck with injuries. I really have,” Schwartz remarked. “It really feels great to be running again. I’m definitely not running as fast as I used to be, but this is first time I’ve almost made it through the entire season.
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“No injuries, so I’m happy with that. I just want to make it through the whole season.”
While routine aches and pains endured through a cross-country season are typical, the crippling blows Schwartz has seen her career get tripped up by have been brutal.
As a freshman, the promising newcomer literally came out of nowhere.
Schwartz was a sluggish runner at best while climbing the ranks at Doe Creek, where she wasn’t fast enough to make the varsity level prior to high school.
Applying what she learned in her first year as a runner, Schwartz took flight as a freshman, winning the Hancock County individual girls cross-country title in 19 minutes, 33 seconds as her team ran up their championship streak to seven.
She earned her first all-conference distinction and excelled in the postseason, finishing seventh (20:45.69) at sectional and 14th at regional (20:28.97). The team took runner-up at both to advance into the Carmel Semistate.
“I started running in the eighth grade. I didn’t even know what I was doing to be honest. I was awful in eighth-grade,” She reminisced. “Then in my freshman year, I was the fastest person on the team. It was a lot of fun.”
The good times rolled into spring during track and straight through the first half of her sophomore cross-country season. Schwartz successfully defended her cross-country county crown in 20:08.39 — 29 seconds ahead of the pack. The feat gave the program its first repeat winner since Amy Parish in 1992-93.
A few weeks later, however, at the conference meet, her steady progress grounded to a halt. A leg injury prevented her from competing in the postseason.
She bounced back in the next spring, winning the 1,600-meter run at the Shelbyville Sectional in 5:38.06 while also competing in the 3,200, 800 and on the 3,200-meter relay team.
Last year, though, Schwartz’s body finally gave out. Sustaining a stress fracture in her left leg before the county’s cross-country championship, her season ended before it even began.
Unable to try for a three-peat at county, the break kept her from a second consecutive postseason. A compound stress fracture in the right leg stole her track season a few months later.
“When I went to the doctor, and he told me I had a stress fracture and I would be out the rest of the season, I knew what I needed to do,” Schwartz recalled. “I’ve gone through physical therapy several times and I’ve come back before.”
Support from her family and keeping a positive outlook helped her persevere, she said, especially when the mental anguish dwarfed the physical pain.
“It’s just frustrating because you have to watch everyone else run, and you feel bad because you can’t do anything,” Schwartz said. “That was the hardest part of it all.”
Having a long-term goal was instrumental in her recovery as well, she said. It continues to drive her today.
“I took some time off, and I focused on my studies because I know where I want to go to college. I want to go to the Navel Academy. I would like to run there, too. I’ve wanted to go there since the sixth grade,” Schwartz said. “I know what my goals are, so I put my energy into that and it helped me get through it.”
As part of the Indiana Civil Air Patrol, Schwartz kept close ties to her ambition throughout her ordeals, gaining an aerospace education, experiencing cadet programs and learning about emergency services.
Back on the course, the immediate goal is unmistakable: stay injury free.
“Sarah has really gone through a lot and has grown a lot,” New Palestine head coach Chuck Myers said. “She’s had the injuries, and I think that hurt her a little bit, just her mindset, but she’s come back and been a great teammate to all the girls.
“She’s happy to be running again, which is exciting for all of us.”
And she’s finally rounding back into form with the New Palestine Sectional this Saturday.
At the county meet last month, she placed third at 21:31, since winning it all in 2013. This past weekend during the HHC meet she was 12th at 20:59.7.
“With stress fractures, once it heals, your leg often comes back stronger. I’ve had stress fractures in both legs, so now both legs are stronger,” Schwartz laughed. “So far I’ve been fine. If the trend holds up, then I should have a good track season, too. I would be happy if that can happen.”
What: New Palestine Cross-Country Sectional
When: Saturday, 10 a.m./10:45 a.m. (boys and girls races)
Who: Baptist Academy, Beech Grove, Eastern Hancock, Franklin Central, Greenfield-Central, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Marshall, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Morristown, New Palestine, Roncalli, Triton Central, Warren Central.
Advancement: The top 10 individuals from non‐advancing teams and the first five qualifying teams from each sectional shall advance to designated regionals.