Her career could have been over. In the blink of an eye, Melany Crocker was left with two bones in one arm badly broken and no fewer than three hip fractures – a potentially crippling blow to the Linfield College sprinter set to enter her senior season.
But she never let the situation get her down.
“You have to give her tons of credit,” says Dr. Garry Killgore, the former Wildcats track and field coach who recruited Crocker to Linfield. “She’s a great young lady, always has been, and I’m very impressed with her attitude.”
Crocker came to Linfield in 2009 following graduation from Rex Putnam High School in Milwaukie, Ore., where she played soccer in the fall and sprinted in the spring. She was voted the most valuable track athlete three years consecutively and competed in the Class 6A state championship meet her junior and senior seasons.
She arrived on Linfield’s campus that fall partly because of her older sister, Corrina.
“At first, I didn’t want to (attend Linfield). I didn’t want to follow Corrina,” Crocker recalls. “But we got to be really good friends after she left for college, so I joined her here after a couple of years.”
The women were part of the same sorority, Alpha Phi, and spent a lot of time on campus together until the older sister’s graduation in 2011. They also shared a love of soccer growing up, and Corrina was a member of Linfield’s women’s team as a sophomore and a junior.
Playing soccer since first grade and sprinting competitively for almost as long at meets through the Catholic Youth Organization, Crocker has always been an athlete. “At first, it’s the kind of competition where everyone gets a ribbon, but I found I love to run. I chose track at Linfield.”
Coaches and fans at Linfield are glad she did: Crocker is one of the fastest women ever to compete at Linfield. She owns the third-fastest mark ever recorded at Linfield in the 100-meter dash and ranks fourth all-time in the 200 meters. She was part of the record-setting 4x100 relay team that won the Northwest Conference championship in 2012.
“It was my first year and it was absolutely an enjoyable experience,” remembers teammate Halsie Peek. “Mel made me want to come back.” Peek describes her captain as a great leader who always looks to engage newcomers with her perpetually positive outlook.
“She’s a fantastic person overall,” Killgore says. “It’s not just about the high marks. Track is a great vehicle for developing your potential as a person.” Now chairperson of Linfield’s Health, Human Performance and Athletics department, Killgore has high praise for Crocker’s performance on and off the track.
“More than just building character, sports reveal character,” he says. “How are going to overcome those challenges?”
That the question that’ been the theme of Crocker’s life the last few months.
Last August, just a week before classes were to start, she was wrapping up a workout at Portland’s Duniway Park when a large tree branch broke away and crashed to the ground, pinning her underneath.
“Six hundred pounds,” she remembers being told later. She woke up in the hospital needing surgery to repair her arm and bedrest to allow her fractured hip time to heal.
Always a sprinter, Crocker says doesn’t know what she’d do without the thrill of racing, but the freak accident left her uncertain if she would compete in her final season. “I had to come to terms with the fact that I might not be fast.”
Peek, her training partner, made plans to visit her in the hospital as soon as she got the news. “Of course it’s a bad thing to hear. Why her? Why now, in her senior season?”
Crocker could have been discouraged, especially given the extra training she’d done during the summer months. “But I decided that I wanted to run, so I made it happen.”
“A lot of people would have just given up, but she didn’t. She got right into the therapy and the pool, working to come back,” Killgore remembers. “When you’re faced with a challenge like this, you can either run away and cry or stand up and do your best.”
Peek is certainly impressed. “Melany has always been very physically and mentally strong, but I think the accident actually made her stronger.”
The recovery process, especially the first two months of physical therapy, was difficult.
“Everyone was very supportive,” says Crocker, remembering the tide of emails, Facebook posts, and visitors that followed the news of her injury. “People bent over backwards to help me get back to school.”
As a senior elementary education major, she appreciated the adjustments teachers at Columbus Elementary School made that allowed her to begin student teaching almost two months later than usual, after she arrived back on campus.
“It’s not what I wanted for my senior year, but I’m thankful to be where I am today,” Crocker says. “I’m close (time-wise) to where I was last year. I know what I can do, so I’m very hard on myself, but I have to remember what I’ve been through and realize that it’s okay to be where I am.”
Many people would say she’s made a full – and impressive – comeback, with top marks in each of her events this year and high hopes for this weekend’s Northwest Conference Championships.
Peek is a very close second. “We compete in the same events and we match pace very well, so we almost always train together, too. I don’t want to say that she’s the best, but she is.”
The two have similar personalities and get along famously, constantly laughing back and forth during and around practices. They have a unique friendship because they are both in their last track season: Peek, a nursing major, heads to the Portland campus next fall and Crocker hopes to move into a job working with children after next month’s graduation.
“I knew she’d be the strongest person to bounce back,” Peek says without hesitation.
Killgore has confidence in Crocker, too. “Mel’s a great young lady.” The performance she’s shown so far attests to a work ethic and strength of character that will keep her pulling hard for first in whatever race she runs.
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