By Drew Karpen
On a frigid April afternoon at the Harbor Creek Invitational, Meadville’s Heather Sternby felt a shock of discomfort in her leg while competing in the 200-meter dash.
Sternby still finished the race in first place. But she found out afterwards that she had strained her hamstring.
“I thought I would be out for a couple of weeks,” Sternby said. “It was really frustrating. I was really upset. I was worried about districts. I didn’t know what I did to it, so it was scary.”
For a typical runner, it would derail any hopes of making a comeback that season. But not for Sternby. The Bulldogs junior worked her tail off to get back into shape in order to return to Harbor Creek High School, the site of the Class AAA District 10 championships.
Her resiliency and dedication paid off, earning herself a second straight trip to the state championships with a first place finish in the 100-meter dash. Sternby won the photo finish with a time of 12.71, .10 seconds ahead of Grove City’s Courtney Corbin.
“For Heather, it was remarkable to bring her back,” Meadville coach Carl Roznowski said. “She is a strong athlete. Somebody that will go the extra mile. She is someone that goes 100 percent all the time.”
Sternby’s performance also earned her the 2013 Meadville Tribune Track and Field Athlete of the Year award.
It wasn’t an easy road to recovery for Sternby.
From April 13 on, Sternby worked countless hours at practice and with the training staff to get back to full speed.
“We had her doing short sprints at practice,” Roznowski said. “As time went along we increased the distance. We pushed it each time.”
Sternby attempted a couple times to make a comeback during the season. On April 23 in a dual meet at Warren, Sternby lined up to race in the 100-meter dash. She made it about 20 meters before her leg forced her to stop.
She tried again on April 27 against McDowell, making it 80 meters before having to pull up.
“We told her ‘you go as far as you can. And if you feel something, stop,’” Roznowski said. “We were testing to see how well she does in competition.”
But like a kid that continues to fall off its bike, Sternby continued to get back up and get stronger.
On May 7, in a home meet against Franklin, Sternby competed and finished her first 100-meter dash since her injury. She picked up where she left off, taking first place with a time of 12.7.
“I was really nervous,” Sternby said. “It was hard for me to run all out but it gave me confidence for districts.”
Two days later, Sternby was back on the track, competing in the 100 and 200-meter dash for the first time since her injury.
“I could tell she was very, very nervous,” Roznowski said. “She would run 50 percent until she ran around a curb and then went 100 percent during practice.”
Sternby stuck to her practice plan, finishing in first place in the 200 with a time of 27.4.
“I was nervous because I didn’t want to re-pull it,” Sternby said. “I didn’t even run it full out that meet. I just ran it for experience.”
A week later Sternby was back where it all started, the track at Harbor Creek High School, for the District 10 Class AAA championships.
After already qualifying for states with a win in the 100, Sternby tried to defend her title in the 200.
Although she came up just shy, coach Roznowski knows the results could have been different if she had more time to practice.
“I don’t think she was fully at her peak,” Roznowski said. “For the 200, you need repetition and she didn’t have that all season. If we had more time we could of practiced the 200 more but we didn’t.”
Sternby took second place with a time of 26.65. Grove City’s Lauren Decker took first at 26.07.
At the state championships at Shippensburg University, Sternby’s final run of the season came in the preliminaries with a time of 13.14.
After flipping the events that took her to states the past two years, Sternby plans on returning to states next year for more than one reason.
“I made it to states for the 200 my sophomore year and in the 100 this year,” Sternby said. “My goal is to continue to train hard and make it to states next year in both events.”