By Steven Eggert
The sport of track and field is all about measurements: distances and times. How fast and far can someone run, how high can they jump and how far can they throw?
However, one thing that is beyond measure is the courage and perseverance senior distance runner Heather Giovagnoli has shown to return to the sport she loves. She was constantly dealing with minor illnesses and injuries during her first three years at Rider, before her breakout senior year.
“Since being at Rider, I’ve had plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and a stress reaction in the top of my foot,” Giovagnoli said. “I also had the flu twice. The flu caused me to miss a cross country and indoor MAAC meet in two separate years, and the stress reaction in my foot caused me to miss another cross country MAAC meet.”
Due to everything she needed to overcome, Giovagnoli doubted herself at times during her college career, but never gave up trying her best. She was frustrated by all she endured.
“Having had so many injuries and getting sick was really difficult for me both physically and mentally,” Giovagnoli said. “Physically because I never felt like I was able to train enough to perform at my best and mentally because I lost so much confidence in myself. I was constantly comparing myself to the times I had run in high school and felt as if I was letting myself, teammates and coaches down. Overall, I was just frustrated. There were definitely times I had doubts, but I couldn’t imagine giving up the sport.”
Head Coach Bob Hamer believes that health for distance runners, like Giovagnoli, is always tough because of how much they run and the physical exhaustion the body takes.
“It is always difficult to see someone struggle with injuries,” Hamer said. “It is part of being a distance runner. The workload is great and it can be very stressful on the body. The key to success is consistent training for long periods of time.
It was very difficult to watch her struggle at times, but we talked a lot about how you have to fight through the adversity and the payoff can be huge down the road.”
Hamer also mentioned that Giovagnoli’s injuries made him think about coaching her individually. He needed to think about his style of coaching so she could recover.
“She also caused me to take a look at what I was doing from a coaching perspective and make the necessary changes that would improve her chances of being successful,” Hamer said. “We try to not be a one size fits all program. We understand that everyone is different and sometimes we need to approach training that way as well.”
It was surprising for Giovagnoli to be injury-prone at Rider because she claimed that she didn’t have a history of injuries in high school. She believed that the adjustment period from high school to college provided a challenge for her.
“In high school, I can honestly say I was never injured,” she said. “Everyone gets a little banged up here and there but I never had to sit out for more than a day or two. I think coming into college I had trouble adjusting to the higher mileage, which was something I wasn’t used to in high school. I also learned that by living in a dorm room and being surrounded by germs, my immune system was pretty weak, which explains having to miss a few meets due to illness.”
Giovagnoli has distanced herself from inconsistencies and left her troubles miles behind her. In 2012 alone, she has a list of achievements that many track athletes may never fulfill in their entire career.
At the Lafayette 7-Way on April 1, she set a Rider record in the 3,000-meter. About a month earlier, at the ECAC Championships, she set another Rider record in the mile. In addition, she also holds the record for running the 1,000-meter, and to top it off, she won Rider female Athlete of the Month in February.
Giovagnoli is excited and relieved that she has been able to accomplish a lot in her senior year, and finally feels that her hard work toward recovery has paid off.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier with the way this year has been going. It finally feels like everything is falling into place. I’m also really glad that I’ve been able to contribute to the team like I had hoped to since freshman year.”
Giovagnoli’s success this year helped her qualify for the ECAC Championships in the 1,000-meter and the mile. Hamer is proud that Giovagnoli has been able to recover and become such a huge part of the team’s success this season.
“I’m real proud of the fact that she was willing to persevere when things were not going well and having the faith in herself and her coach that she would be able to turn it around,” Hamer said. “[Heather] has overcome a lot of adversity to succeed and that is a testament to her character. She has made a large impact on the team this year [and] has competed at a very high level, which has the effect of setting the bar higher for others. She has been an integral part of raising the bar for the entire program. I have always known that she had the ability to compete at the level she is at right now. It was all about believing in herself and reestablishing confidence in her abilities.”