When Heritage sophomore Adam Crawford stepped out of his Leesburg home in mid-January and prepared to run after nearly a seven-month hiatus, he decided to start with a two-mile trip around the neighborhood.
He was in pain as he ran, but he couldn't have been happier.
Running is Crawford's passion. But after being diagnosed in June with Osgood-Schlatter disease, a debilitating condition characterized by activity-related pain and swelling just below the kneecap, he was forced to sit out the entire cross-country season last fall. The pain was so severe, he said, he couldn't even play pickup basketball games.
"There was this shooting pain," said Crawford, instinctively rubbing just below his knees. "The doctors kind of left it to my own discretion as far as when I could start running again. And I really wanted to do cross-country. But I knew I shouldn't run. It was just hurting too bad."
That mid-January jaunt proved to be the start of a slow recovery that has stretched throughout this year's outdoor track and field season. Osgood-Schlatter occurs when a youth, usually between 10 and 15 years old, is physically active and in the midst of a big "growth spurt"; the only thing that can truly alleviate the pain is time.
So Crawford, who grew from about 5 feet 2 to 5 feet 7 during a six-month stretch, ran only sparingly at first. Cross-country coach Jeff Dunn, who also works with the outdoor track team's distance runners, put him on a three-day schedule. As the season has progressed, Crawford has practiced more and run faster, qualifying last week for the Virginia AA meet in the 3,200 meters after posting a time of 9 minutes 54 seconds.
With the qualifying time already achieved, Crawford now has his sights set on winning the two-mile race at the Dulles District championships today.
"This kid is special," Dunn said. "Most distance runners come into the outdoor season having run cross-country in the fall and having run throughout the winter to establish and maintain that base endurance. And he couldn't do any of that. So for him to qualify for the state meet and to be running so well show's how remarkably gifted he is.
"I remember the first time I saw Adam run. He was in the sixth grade at Harper Park Middle School, and they had to run a mile in P.E. . . . And there was this little kid just scooting along, so far ahead of everyone else in the sixth grade. He had this unique stride that I knew I'd never forget."
That stride still causes sporadic pain -- even though Crawford said the condition continues to improve, its symptoms haven't completely subsided -- but it has done nothing to diminish his interest in track. Crawford, 16, says he is back running 20 to 25 miles a week.
"I still have to limit myself. I can't practice every day, but hopefully it'll be going away for good soon," he said of the condition. "And all that really matters is I'm running again. I tried going to some cross-country meets and supporting my team and my friends, but watching was just so hard."
So instead he poured over cross-country and track and field results online.
"If you want to know anything about anyone in the district, region, state or even the nation, he's the one to talk to," Dunn said. "He knows everything about running and about its history. It's his passion. I'm more of a consultant than a coach because he knows how to train and what to do in a race.
"Seeing him actually be able to get out there and do it again . . . that's been too unbelievable to describe."