From broken leg to broken records


Miles Postema

Cole leading the 3200 meter relay at the 2022 Regional meet for the Panthers.

Tyler Berens and Nathan Riley

On April 23, 2022, Sr. Carston Cole stepped onto the track at Catholic Central High School. He could feel the spikes on his neon racing flats grip the surface; his gut wrenched into a knot and his legs shook as he took his lane. The crowd grew silent in anticipation of a thrilling race. Upon the starter’s whistle, Cole and the rest of the runners stepped up to the line. Thoughts of last year’s race flashed in Cole’s mind and his once-broken leg tensed. “Bang,” the runners shot off and Cole left his worries behind. He felt determined to win the race that nearly ended his running career a year earlier.

   Just one year prior, nobody could imagine the success Cole would have in his high school career. Cole led the mile at the 2021 Cougar Invite, and as he rounded the turn into the home stretch, he slowed and collapsed to the track with a broken leg. “I was winning the mile, on pace for a huge personal record. But on the home stretch, my foot went sideways in the track and I tumbled onto the infield. After visiting urgent care I learned that my tibia and fibula were broken,” Cole said.

   The injury kept Cole off the track for the rest of his junior season. “The toughest part was not being able to run and help my team; the physical pain was immense, but the feeling of helplessness was worse,” Cole said.

   Former teammate Ben Riley noticed the absence of Cole after his injury. “The team definitely felt like we owed it to him to push through and have a great season. I think that’s partly why our team was able to find success. Carston is such a good leader, so everyone just felt like they needed to step up,” Riley said.

   After surgery that placed a titanium rod in his leg, Cole spent a month on crutches. Cole didn’t return to racing until four months after his injury, but the months spent away from running still hindered his times.

   Towards the end of his final cross country season for West Ottawa, Cole finally saw the results of the commitment he showed to recovering. Cole qualified for the Division I State meet, running only 31 seconds slower than his time from the previous year.

   After the Cross Country season finished, Cole continued his hard work and set his sights on setting new school records for the outdoor track season.

   At the track meet on April 23, Cole ran a PR and placed 2nd, nearly winning the event that affected him so much. “I realized I was fully back when I raced at the Cougar Invite. After that race, I was able to muster up the courage to push myself even more,” Cole said.

   Continuing his momentum from the Cougar Invite to the Von Ins Invite, Cole took an early lead during his final race on the home track. Cole led the whole race, beating the rest of the field by nearly 30 seconds. Most importantly, Cole broke the school record for the 3200-meter run with a time of 9:33.75. “That felt mostly positive. I’d been after a school record for four years, and getting one felt great, but it was basically a tie with the old record,” Cole said.

Miles Postema

   Hungry for more at the Division I Team State meet, Cole had one more record in mind that he wanted to break: the 1600-meter run. Riley had come within 5 seconds of the record four days prior, so Cole realized he could come close to breaking it.

   Cole ran a great race, setting the new school record. He ran a time of 4:18.47 and placed first. “Breaking the 4:19 with my 4:18 felt amazing; the race felt great and the record came out of nowhere, that race was probably the highlight of my season,” Cole said.

   After setting two school records, Cole continued his success. He qualified for the Division One State meet in the 3200-meter run, a chance to race with the best runners in the state. Cole placed sixth, shattering his previous school record of 9:33.75 with a time of 9:11.42. “Breaking my old 3200 record by 22 seconds was another amazing feeling because I finally put all of my training to use and ran a great time,” Cole said.

   After breaking two school records just over a year from when he couldn’t even walk, Cole transitioned to running collegiately for Hope College. Cole ran Cross Country in the fall, making First Team all-MIAA. Cole enjoyed the challenge of the longer race compared to the 5000-meter run in high school. “I thought transitioning to the 8k would be bad, but I ended up really enjoying it,” Cole said.

   Cole continued his success into the track season, working throughout the winter to drop time. Cole ran a personal best in all of his events and had the second fastest 5k time on the team.

   Hope’s head track coach is also his father. Kevin Cole knew his son had the potential to have a successful running career. “I always thought Carston had the potential to be a great runner but the first time I saw him realize it was when he was running a junior varsity cross-country race in middle school.  He realized he had the chance to win the race and fought off a tough challenge at the end to win.  I think that little taste of victory was enough to give him the confidence and desire to become a great runner,” his father said.

   Cole hopes to continue his success at Hope College, ultimately wanting to break 15 minutes in the 5000-meter run, a challenge for even those without a metal rod in their leg.