SEATTLE – Last winter, Megan Goethals was near self-destruction.
She weighed less than 100 pounds. She wasn’t eating enough to refuel a body she was demanding to run more than 80 miles per week. In her second race at Washington as the most decorated of Huskies coach Greg Metcalf’s star-packed recruiting class of 2009, the Gatorade national girls cross country runner of the year essentially crashed and burned into the cross-country course at Notre Dame.
“That was probably one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had,” she says. “My body was just failing me. They had to shut me down for the season.”
Metcalf and Huskies assistant Lauren Denfeldsent pulled Goethals away from the track for three months, the rest of her freshman cross-country season and the beginning of indoor.
“I got really depressed,” Goethals said. “I had a really rough start to my college career.”
Her coaches helped assemble a support group that became known as “Team Megan.” Each week for more than three months, she walked alone into regular appointments. With doctors. With trainers. A nutritionist. A psychiatrist.
But at first, they weren’t exactly her pals. Her psychiatrist told her to find a new pursuit, a new love, that she likely wouldn’t run competitively again. Not if she wanted a healthy life, anyway.
“It was almost surreal. I would think about it sometimes. `Wow, a year ago I won cross-country nationals. Now, I can’t even run three miles,’” Goethals said. “It was really, really hard to handle hearing the doctors – they were trying to be positive with me – but them saying, `You have to accept that you might not be able to do this anymore.’
“The hardest, definitely, was seeing the psychiatrist. She made me tell her everything that happened, how it happened. It was just hard to know that I really gone through just a couple of months on the track and everything had changed and I wasn’t the national-caliber athlete that I hoped to be here.”
She is now.
Strengthened with 15 added pounds – 15 percent more than her total body weight was at her lowest points – and revived with a renewed career, Goethals went to the outdoor track and field championships in Des Moines, Iowa. She ran the 5,000 in 15:47.79, breaking the UW freshman record with the third-best time in school history. She finished sixth in the nation, the best placing ever by a Husky woman in that event, and she earned the UW women their only points at the national finals meet. She went from out of action to All-American in five months.
She continued her resurgence as a sophomore. In last fall’s cross-country season Goethals was the only UW woman runner to improve her time in every race. In November she ran 20:06 in the 6,000 meters, third among all sophomore or freshman finishers at the national championships to finish 18th, helping Washington take second in the country as a team.
Goethals has gone from trauma to triumph, depressed to determined. Though her psychiatrist told her to find something other than running, Goethals is back for her junior year as one of the nation’s elite distance runners.