When an athlete faces a potentially devastating injury, the response can be telling. Among a bevy of routes that can be chosen — staying upbeat through rehab, or sulking and quitting altogether — it is possible to learn a lot from such an experience.
Century distance runner Matt Kane confronted such a test during his senior year, though it wasn't a single injury that hampered his ability to compete.
With a strong desire to get back on the track with his teammates and learn from the ordeal, he was faced with a challenge that wasn't simply fighting the injury, but also involved, more importantly, coming to terms with understanding how to give himself a rest and change once he was cleared to run again.
"If I learned anything out of this injury, I think my running strategy has definitely improved," said Kane, the Times Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year. "That's how I ran pretty much my entire championship season."
After slowly working his way back to a full schedule of events, the final weeks of Kane's season proved just how dominant he could be if even remotely healthy.
At the Carroll County championship meet, he collected victories in the 800- and 1,600-meter run events. He went onto finish third in the 800, and win the mile and two-mile at regionals.
At the Class 2A state meet, he took home gold medals with personal-best times in the 1,600 (4:22.69) and 3,200 (9:31.07) and finished fourth in the 800 — a race he maintains he would have won had he been at full strength. He also ran anchor on the team's first-place 4x800 meter relay at regionals and states.
After watching his top distance runner's season come to a close, Century coach Tony Griner said he thinks the reason Kane was so successful wasn't simply his speed, but rather because he learned how to run a proper race to avoid another injury.
"When he left, his mindset was he didn't really run smart," Griner said. "Everything was done with legs and heart and passion and fiery spirit. The change came with him having to be smart. He had to learn how to run, how to be smart during races."
After a breakout cross country campaign — the first time he'd ever lined up for the sport — Kane tried his best to be ready for the indoor track and field circuit.
The details on exactly when he suffered what was almost a year-ending injury aren't entirely clear, he said. It could have been at the Carroll County cross country championship, or even at the 2A West Region meet. Regardless, by the time Kane finally consulted a doctor about the pain in his left leg, the damage had been done.
He was diagnosed with a femoral stress fracture — essentially a broken leg he had continued to run on, and almost win with. The injury set him out for nearly the entire indoor season.
Rest and rehab were his only chances of getting healthy again.
"It was difficult," he said. "I joined a gym, did a lot of deep-water jogging, and basically tried to make sure I was in shape and ready to go once I healed up."
After weeks on crutches, eventually working himself back to running shape, Kane was set to participate in the indoor county championship meet.
He took on the 3,200 run, and came in third. But, the pain was still there. And after another trip to the doctor, he received even worse news: he had stress fractures in both tibias.
"When the second injury came, I could completely understand if he just wanted to bag the whole thing and forget about it," Kane's mother, Patty, said. "So many days in the pool. That's a lot of jogging in the water."
The Kane family rallied around their son. His dad, Kasey, joined the gym as well and tried to keep up with his son's rehab as a show of solidarity. His mother was also supportive, though she admits that, at times, it was difficult to see him have to work through the pain.
What surprised the family was the drive they saw out of the young runner.
His positive attitude throughout the year, however, could be what carries him the most in his running career.
"There's a huge mental aspect to running," said Kane. "And I try to make sure I always go into every practice and every meet with a positive mindset like, 'OK I can do this. This is what I can do and I'm going to do it.'"