Captain Comeback

Josh Pohl

Coming into the final turn of the mile, Jr. Carston Cole was in the lead. With just 70 meters left, Cole had the win in his hands. Out of nowhere, he started limping and his foot went sideways on the track. His ankle hit the ground followed by the rest of his body. Cole had broken his leg and his season was over. 

Photo by Laura Veldhof

   Running has played a big role in Cole’s life. He is very committed and involved in the sport, running both cross country and track. Cole, now a senior, has been on the cross country and track team consistently since he was in 6th grade. “I love running. It’s the part of the day I look forward to the most,” Cole said.

   Cole dominates the course with his fast pace in both sports. Prior to the injury, Cole had been on track to be one of West Ottawa’s best runners ever. Cole currently holds the second fastest 5k in WO cross-country history with an impressive 16:04. 

   Cole definitely had a bright future running for WO. He had high goals for himself for the track and cross country season. However, on April 24 while running the mile at Grand Rapids Christian, everything changed. 

   “At the time I did not know my bones were broken, I thought it was just my ankle that broke,” Cole said. “The adrenaline was still coursing through me so I didn’t feel the extent of the pain until later.”

   “It was heartbreaking to see someone who we’ve always seen as pretty much at the top of his game all the time come to a halt and be set back for that long, especially knowing the huge goals he had for both track and cross country the next year,” Jr. Connor Wooley said.

   Due to the injury, Cole had to get surgery in his leg. He had a titanium rod put into his tibia to keep his leg stable. Recovery from his injury was a long and slow process. For about a month, he was on crutches, putting little weight on his foot. As the weeks went on, Cole was able to put more and more weight on his leg until he could walk again. Once Cole was able to walk, he went through physical therapy to strengthen his leg.

   The team certainly felt Cole’s injury. Competing became a challenge in meets without their best runner. “I, along with the other distance runners, knew we had to step it up and fill in the hole that was left in the team to be able to stay competitive in our tough conference,” Wooley said. 

   Although their best runner was out, the team stepped up during the season to try to fill the hole Cole had left. “Without Carston, we had a disadvantage when it came to meets but that didn’t stop us from trying our best,” Jr. Ben Monger said.

   Running was limited, but slowly increased as the season went on. However, coming back to the sport wasn’t easy. Running was challenging at times. “There was one time where I thought my fibula was going to have a stress reaction. A lot of tightness in my muscles,” Cole said. 

   It wasn’t until October 14 that Cole truly returned to his fast form in a workout. The return to speed coincided with a return to his typically fun approach to the sport. As the runners were starting a cool down after a hard workout, Carston went out of his way to splash in a mud puddle. “That was the moment I knew he was physically and mentally ready to truly race again,” Coach Chris Knoll said.

   “Carston jumps in puddles on rainy days in front of everyone, which is pretty funny,” Jr. Owen Foster said. Cole’s humorous attitude towards the sport certainly has an effect on his teammates. 

   “Carston is very hard working and very competitive, yet he finds joy in all of the running and racing. He has a very relaxed and fun attitude,” Knoll said.

Photo by Laura Veldhof

  “I remember at some practices thinking he was still doing his recovery training or at the trainer’s office and then all of a sudden he pops up right next to me with his signature ‘Oh, hey Connor’ and starts forcing me to go way faster than I wanted to,” Jr. Connor Wooley said. 

   Due to recovering from his broken leg, Carston was only able to race four races before qualifying for the state finals. He ran an 18:00 on September 11, a 17:39 in the mud on October 16, a 16:44 in the conference final on October 21, and then a 16:37 at the state regional. 

   Carston Cole has come a long way since his injury on April 24. On Saturday, November 6, Cole ran a 16:35.73 at the MHSAA Division I finals at Michigan International Speedway finishing 78th. “The team felt relieved and excited that their number one runner was back on the line and ready to win and pass people,” Monger said. “I thought it was really inspiring to see him come so far after what happened. After all of that time not being able to run and still keeping that speed really stuck out to me.” 

   Cole is certainly an inspiration not only to his teammates but to all athletes.