Two years ago this week, Haley Rach would have had a hard time envisioning what lay ahead for her.
The Arroyo Seco resident, who is a senior at Taos Academy Charter School, but competes for Taos High School, signed a letter of intent Wednesday to run cross-country at Regis University in Denver.
It capped a long run back from a significant hip injury.
“During the mile, we were about 100 meters into the race when I heard this really loud pop, crack sound,” Rach recalled. “I kept racing. I ended up finishing the race because I was a sophomore and I was a little bit of a bonehead. But, afterwards, I could not move my leg, it hurt so much. And I couldn’t run.”
The local folks at the urgent care thought it was a stress fracture, but an orthopedist in Taos thought it was something more and sent her for an MRI of her hip, then to a specialist in Albuquerque. The recommendation was a cortisone shot but, when that didn’t improve matters, it was decided to do some exploratory surgery.
That was in November 2014 and the surgeon discovered an extremely tight hip flexor coupled with the pelvis having been rotated forward.
“So it was a combination of a birth defect and an overuse injury,” Rach said.
Surgeons had to lengthen her hip flexor to correct the situation.
“It was quite the process,” she said. “It was just a lot to handle for somebody that just wanted to run.”
Finding and correcting the problem, of course, only took Rach halfway to the finish line.
Following surgery, she began a lengthy rehabilitation that, at the beginning, included daily workouts with the physical therapist, with whom she worked part time.
Rach also began to expand her horizons.
“It was really frustrating,” she said. “My whole identity and everything I did in life was through running. I really had to stop and think about what I wanted to do.”
The first thing she had to do was find something to fill the void.
“I started joining more clubs at school,” Rach said. “I joined the swim team. I threw myself into a lot of different things so I didn’t have to think about running.”
And she worked diligently on her rehab.
“It was really long,” Rach said of the process. “Six months as a full-time patient, then reduced to me going back to work and therapy once a week. It’s been a lot of work. A lot of it at first was getting my range of motion back because I couldn’t lift my leg at all. I was riding a stationery bike. Stretching a lot. Then it turned into more strengthening exercises.”
Eventually she was able to walk with just one crutch, then without any.
“And slowly I began to be able to run again,” Rach said.
By last summer, she was running two to three times a week, but that still didn’t have her quite ready for cross-country season in the fall.
“I had a whole summer of not running a lot, three times a week was the max,” Rach said. But when cross-country season started, all of sudden it was “six times a week. There was a lot of work that goes into it. For a while it was pretty discouraging. I wasn’t able to keep up with teammates. I had a lot of reminders that I was injured, and I still had a ways to go and to keep going.”
Her teammates and coaches, however, were very encouraging.
“My coaches and my teammates have been right behind me and helped me so much, putting in the miles and working really hard with me,” Rach said, helping the Tigers take second place in state. “It was really, slowly happening. I was really happy to be with my team at state and enjoy the experience one last time.”
With her college decision out of the way, she said she’s now focusing on going out with a strong performance at next month’s state track and field championships, where she aims to qualify in the 1- and 2-mile runs.
“The 2-mile is really my specialty,” Rach said. “I run the mile, too. It’s fun, but just not long enough for me. I hope to qualify. I want to be able to run at state for that final time.”