Running through the pain

CHARLOTTESVILLE — With a good-humored smile on her face, Emily Schrope couldn’t resist from indulging in a cheerful laugh.

As the wind playfully blew around her hair while standing near the Eastern Hancock cross-country team’s practice course, nothing seemed out of place other than a few renegade locks fluttering in her face.

“Maybe if I stand this way,” the senior suggested. “There we go. Wait, maybe not.”

Her smile didn’t drift far despite Mother Nature’s gusty intrusion. Inside, though, contrasting feelings whirled around, past her muscles, beyond her ligaments and tendons, deep into her bones.

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Diagnosed with osteopenia, a condition where bone density is measured and identified at lower than normal peak levels, discomfort is a persistent intruder. Risks of fractures and broken bones are always present even in fixed positions.

“I have pain right now; I’m not going to lie,” Schrope openly shared without a grimace in her contrarily gleeful eyes. “This is awful, but I’m super used to it because the past four years it’s been constant pain.”

Since her eighth-grade year, Schrope’s slender frame has been riddled by stress fractures in both legs, pierced by investigative needles, put through countless MRI and CT scans and X-rays.

It wasn’t until a DXA scan was conducted at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital last year that the ambiguity of her condition was finally uncovered.

“When they did her bone scan, they found that she had significantly lower bone density than normal limits for her age and gender,” said Julie Schrope, Emily’s mother. “But it wasn’t low enough yet to be considered osteoporosis.”

A career derailed

Emily Schrope can’t sit still, let alone stand around, for longer than a few seconds.“She’s a perfectionist,” Julie Schrope remarked. “She is always doing something, and she has to have things just right. She makes her lunch the day before, gets everything ready, and when she does something, it has to be all the way no matter what.”

In junior high school and the years prior, Emily outlined her athletics intentions through unmatched effort and preparation. She ran track, specializing in the mile, 400- and 800-meter runs and was part of the relay teams.

In the winter, the forward set up camp in the gym, working on her shot and boxing out for countless hours. She played travel basketball in the offseason and was determined to become part of the Royals varsity cross-country team in high school.

Wanting nothing more than to follow in her older sister Kiersten’s footsteps, a standout runner at Eastern Hancock before continuing her career at Marian University, sports were a big part of her life.

Then came the pain. In the beginning, the sharp irritation ran up and down her shins midway through her final junior high school track season.

Eventually, it felt like she was “getting repeatedly stabbed by a fork,” stopping her dead in her tracks and prompting her parents, Julie and Mike, to get her in for an exam.

Discovering the problem

“We first started noticing it in track. She was also still doing club basketball,” Julie Schrope said. “At first, the doctors said it was probably from overuse and she had shin splints, so we treated it as shin splints, but it continued to get worse.”After on-and-off flair ups, a scan later revealed the source of the problem. She had a stress fracture.

“The first one, she was in a (walking) boot for 12 weeks. That was more than a normal stress fracture, but at that point we didn’t know she had low bone density,” Julie Schrope said.

Emily powered through physical therapy, healed up and shed the boot as she moved forward with her plan to run cross-country that fall, then the pain returned.

“She would get to the point where she thought she was better, would go back and get an MRI and get cleared to run, then seven days into running she would have pain again,” Julie Schrope said. “Her scan would show she had another one. Another stress fracture. It was like that for awhile.”

Able to compete briefly, the fractures robbed her of the remainder of the cross-country season and derailed her basketball and track seasons.

Doctors referred the family to Riley Hospital for Children for various tests. Emily met with specialists at St. Vincent Health before the diagnosis was confirmed two years later.

“When I found out, I started crying,” Emily Schrope said. “It was bittersweet finally knowing and then knowing what it meant.

“There’s medicine you can take, but because it will stay in your body forever, you can’t take it until you’re done having kids because it can affect them. Hopefully, my bones will improve until I’m older and am ready to do that.”

Change in direction

Adhering to a proper diet isn’t only a necessity but a staple in Schrope’s lifestyle today. Never a junk food addict, her mom says, Emily still has a tug-of-war relationship with her vegetables.However, when it comes to her supplements, Emily is faithful. She takes 2,000 units of Vitamin D and 1,200 milligrams of calcium routinely to help support her bone density while not ingesting too much with kidney stones a potential threat.Meanwhile, the testing remains a constant as her doctors carefully monitor her thyroid and any further bone loss through DXA scans, a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry.

“Too many to count,” Schrope laughed when referring to her extensive list of scans. “I’ve had MRIs, CAT scans, X-rays, anything you can imagine. I’ve had five of at least each and have to go in to get them often.”

To help maintain and build her bone density, Schrope trains on her own and rehabs at Athletico Physical Therapy in Greenfield. Her workouts involve elliptical runs, core-strengthening exercises and low-impact activities.

{p dir=”ltr”}”Exercise helps build bone density, the doctors said, but I’m not allowed to swim because it actually makes your muscles stronger but your bones weaker,” Schrope explained. “Obviously, they don’t want my bones to get weaker, so I do things to keep my heart rate in shape.”{p dir=”ltr”}

Having osteopenia means there is a greater risk as time goes by that her bone density could drop low enough to develop into osteoporosis. According to studies, people naturally lose bone mass after reaching their peak bone density at about 30 years old, Schrope said she never reached that point as her body matured.

{p dir=”ltr”}Now, it’s a matter of racing the clock and protecting her body.{p dir=”ltr”}

Narrowing her focus

{p dir=”ltr”}This summer, she decided to give up basketball and is focused solely on running — as a way to ward off a more potentially devastating injury.“The running part doesn’t scare me as much as basketball, the contact sport, because they did talk about her spine being very at risk from cracking or breaking,” Julie Schrope said. “It was very frustrating for her. It’s been hard as a parent, too, not to see her accomplish the things she really wanted to do.“At the same time, I’m really proud of her because she has that determination and she won’t ever give up. She wants to prove to herself and everyone else that she can do it.”

Part of the team

Schrope wasn’t able to run with her cross-country team through her sophomore and junior years, but she has always been a part of the group.Sidelined by stress fractures, she had to watch, stuck in idle, as the Royals won three straight Mid-Hoosier Conference team titles.Though she didn’t step on the course, Schrope stayed involved, cheering on her friends and attending every practice and meet.

The official “team mom,” Schrope keeps the girls in line and offers hair-styling advice for fun.

“She’s a big part of this team even though she hasn’t been able to run since her freshman year,” Eastern Hancock head coach Rex Putt said. “Every year we’ve won conference, she been sitting there with a boot on. At least until this year. Boot free. It was amazing to see her out there.”

Healthy enough to compete, Schrope ran with the team during the Blackford Invitational and in the conference meet, her first appearance at both.

At conference, she finished 21st with a time of 24:29.1 with minimal practice and in only her second invitational since 2012.

“I really wanted to run at Blackford because both of my parents went to Blackford and when I was little and went to my grandparents, my sister (Kiersten) and I would go and run on the Blackford course,” Schrope said. “I wanted to run on it at least once in my high school career and at conference.”

Her first conference appearance didn’t go without complication, however.

Overexerting herself, Schrope lost consciousness twice after the race — once at the finish and 20 minutes afterwards at the team tent.

Drained and suffering from low blood sugar, Schrope recovered quickly but admits it caused a mild panic, especially for her mom, who wasn’t in attendance.

{p dir=”ltr”}”The one and only meet I wasn’t at. I don’t know if God knew I shouldn’t be there or what,” Julie Schrope laughs while thinking about now. “I don’t know what I would have done if I was, but my husband was there with her brother (Skyler). That was probably for the best.”{p dir=”ltr”}

Schrope’s performance made a profound impact on her teammates, who, once she recovered, embraced the moment with her by taking a team photo — together as four-time champions.

{p dir=”ltr”}”We are all so close. We’ve been friends since middle school. Watching her at the conference meet, she pushed herself so hard with the pain,” senior Hope Spaulding said. “She tries so hard and wants to run so bad. I wouldn’t be able to do it. There’s no way.{p dir=”ltr”}

”We were all so happy to finally have her out there and have everyone run at the same time at conference. It was the first time.”

{p dir=”ltr”}Forward progress{p dir=”ltr”}

”God has a reason for everything, I believe,” Schrope said. “Maybe I’m not suppose to be a runner, but my parents support me in whatever I do. That means so much. I know they don’t want me to get hurt but they support me.”

{p dir=”ltr”}After achieving her goals this fall, though unable to compete in the cross-country postseason, Schrope is already thinking spring.{p dir=”ltr”}

”My sister is my biggest role model. I look up to her a lot, and I really wish I could be as good as her,” She said. “Running at Blackford and in conference were my cross-country goals. My goal for track this year is to try to break the school record set by her for the 800-meter run at 2:19.”

{p dir=”ltr”}Putt said she believes she will do everything in her power to try to make it happen. And even if it doesn’t, he believes her inspiration is an achievement alone.“Just being out here and wanting to run is remarkable. Most people wouldn’t want to run, but she feels like she lets the team down if she doesn’t try,” Putt said. “Just to see her run at conference made my year. It’s almost bigger than winning it. It was bigger than anything this program has done.”

Running with Emily

Emily Schrope

School: Eastern Hancock

Age: 17

Parents: Julie and Mike Schrope

Siblings: Kiersten and Skyler

Sports: Cross-country, track and field, (former) basketball

Role model: My sister, Kirsten

Favorite pre-event meal: I love pasta!

If I’m not running, I’m …: Valuing my time with friends and family.

Favorite athletics accomplishment: My freshman year in track, we broke the 3,200-meter relay record and we won county and conference. Winning county was a really big accomplishment.

What do the conference titles in cross-country and track mean to you: They’re a really big accomplishment. We weren’t in a conference until my freshman year, so it’s a big deal to win all those years in a row.

What’s your favorite movie: “Safe Haven”

Favorite professional athlete: Brittney Griner is my basketball athlete.

Any superstitions?: I always have to wear the same socks. They have to be NIKE and they have to be pink or black.

Favorite music: I’ll listen to whatever.

Philosophy in life: You have to work hard all the time if you want to get somewhere in life.

Author photo
Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.