Four-year John Carroll cross country runner Ben Pickett is tall and slim. But he's tough, too.
The 6-foot, 125-pound Pickett suffered a collapsed lung in August 2010, but it wasn't diagnosed until this January. While it was undiagnosed, Pickett won several meets, then moved on to the indoor track season and set school records in the 1500-, 3000- and 3200-meter events, all the while thinking he had a pulled back muscle.
This year, he's back and better than ever.
The senior has won six dual and tri meets this fall. He ran the third-fastest time of any runner from the state (16 minutes, 44 seconds) at the prestigious Bull Run Invitational, where he finished second in the small school division and fifth overall.
"The one thing that sets him apart from every other runner I have coached is that I know he will give all he has and not hold anything back," John Carroll coach Michael Monaghan said. "He sets a great example for our other athletes. … . Guys like Ben don't land on your team very often but when they do, you feel like you are the luckiest coach in the world."
Pickett carries a 3.7 unweighted grade-point average and wants to study engineering and run cross country in college. He is considering attending Maryland, Pittsburgh or Shippensburg University
He'll be among those competing in the Maryland Iinterscholastic Athletic Association cross country championships Nov. 2 at Oregon Ridge in Hunt Valley.
What happened that caused your lung to collapse?
It was two or three days after I ran in the AAU Nationals in August 2010. I was down at the beach in Cape Charles, Va., and I just all of a sudden felt this back pain. I don't know when it actually happened, but from then on the pain would come in waves off and on for months. My breathing was a little pained, but I thought it was just a strained muscle in my back.
So you kept running. When did you finally stop?
It started to really bother my breathing late in the cross country season, and I didn't take part in the postseason because the back pain was so bad. It settled down again, and when I went to the doctor, he couldn't really hear anything really wrong or different when he listened to me breathe.
Then, halfway through the indoor season, I ran a race and two days later I was in the hospital. They found out my lung was 60 percent collapsed and that I had a condition that caused blisters to form on my lung. I had an operation Jan. 11. They went in and snipped out part of my lung.
We’re you scared?
I’d had the condition so long, finding out what it was wasn’t scary. But the operation – it was my first – that was very scary.
Are you totally OK now?
They said, if I went back to running, there was as much as a 30 percent chance of it happening on the left side, but almost no chance of the same side. I knew my limitations. I knew I wasn't going to be going on fine with running, that it would be kind of a risk. But it usually doesn't cross my mind at all. I've worked my way back. I was out sick for six weeks after the operation and then I started jogging, slowly, and for no more than a mile. It took two or three months to get back to my usual 90 minutes to two hour workouts.
You love running?
I do love it, but it takes a lot out of your life — the training, the dedication, watching your diet. But I love the team and friends I’ve made in the sport. And I love the satisfaction of running 5 [kilometers]K and finishing it up. I like that it’s hard and a bit of a challenge.
Why did you start running?
I fell into it really. My mom and dad both ran cross country at Towson University, [and] my older brother ran. I played soccer through ninth grade and I tried basketball, but I wasn't any good at those. In fifth grade my brother ran for a track club and my parents coached it. I tried it and wasn't very good, but I was learning. Then, in sixth grade I really, really enjoyed it. I started winning and I went to the AAU Nationals for the first time. And I'd gone every year after that, until last year. I'd like to go this year.
If you were given a do-over, what would it be?
I'd probably want to do over the MIAA championship meet my sophomore year. I didn't kick through at the finish and I lost by .01 seconds. That's as close as I've come to the title. I didn't run last year because the lung got really bad. .
Is your goal this season to win the MIAA title?
I have two goals. I want to win the MIAA championships and I want to help pull my team to a top-three overall finish. It would be the first time in our school's history, if we can do it.