For running phenom Gabrielle Jennings, overcoming injury has become almost as common as winning races.
During her freshman year, a slight difference in her hamstring to glute ratio caused excruciating pain in her hip. Last year, a battle with anemia cramped her style.
Currently, Jennings has tendinitis in her left ankle, which has prevented her from approaching her personal best time of 17 minutes, 22 seconds over 3 miles.
What the tendinitis, or anything else for that matter, hasn’t done is prevent Jennings from winning. The junior at Slidell-based First Baptist Christian still continues to impress in the meets she runs.
For instance, she won the highly competitive Walker Shootout on Oct. 18 with a time of 17:54.49 nearly a full minute faster than her nearest competitor in the large school standings. Had she run in the small school competition (First Baptist is a Class C school,) her margin of victory would have been greater. Her time was faster at a 5K event in Alabama a few days before, in which her 3-mile split was 17:42.
Injured or not, Jennings will be the favorite to win another Class C Louisiana State Cross Country Championship when the meet is held in mid-November in Natchitoches. Her first prep title came when she was in fifth grade, and she’s shown no signs of slowing since then — hip, iron count or ankle be damned.
“It seems like every season, I have to overcome some obstacle,” the 16-year old said. “It’s nothing new. Some of (the injuries) definitely are tougher than others. Some are more painful and more serious. I think the problem I had with my hip; that was the worst. We didn’t know what it was for months. ... I felt so broken. That was my first major injury.”
Jennings said there were some days during that trying freshman year when her steely mental resolve could have foundered.
“It was really tough mentally,” she said. “The anemia was bad. And it wasn’t just physical. Mentally and emotionally, you just get tired.”
The tendinitis, she said, doesn’t come close to giving her the frustration she has felt before, however. In fact, it may make her tougher.
“I take all this as a test of strength,” she said. “Sometimes I fail, but I pick myself back up. And really, I’ve grown to be fascinated with the way the human body works. Biology was boring when we were studying plants, but when we got to animals and the human body, it was amazing. A lot of things, I’d heard my doctors talk with me about before. It’s something I’d like to look into in the future.”
Of course, she also foresees racing in her future — not only in the final handful of meets remaining in the outdoor season, but in indoors in 2015, in her senior season, and well beyond into college. Her current goal is to win an individual state title (she’s the only runner on her high school team,) and she also wants to post the fastest time of all girls in any racing division in Natchitoches.
“When I first started running, I would be stressed because I wanted to please the crowd,” Jennings said. “Now, I realize this is my future. It’s something that will help get me to college. But I decide. I run for myself, and I run for God. When my dad and I would run when I was a kid, he’d ask me two questions. He’d say ‘Are you having fun?’ and ‘Who are you running for?’ ”
With her skills and goals in perspective, fellow runners will have a hard time keeping up with Jennings in Natchitoches. After all, that’s the way it’s been for a half-dozen years now.
“I’m definitely in shape,” she said. “I think I can go under 17 (minutes.) We’ve been getting ready for this season since the summer. ... I want to make a statement. We’ll see.”