NAMPA, Idaho — When Oregon’s Brianne Theisen thinks about winning last year’s pentathlon title at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, she remembers crying. Not from the joy of claiming a second consecutive title, but from the excruciating pain she endured while competing. Her back was killing her, pain so severe – and difficult to pinpoint – that it robbed her of being able to compete in the 2011 outdoor season.
|THREE IN A ROW?|
Oregon and Florida will each be in pursuit of a third consecutive national championship this weekend in Nampa, Idaho. Not surprisingly, each team’s motivation comes from a completely different place.
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Theisen, a fifth-year senior from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, is back and healthier than ever. Any doubts about her recovery were erased in her first competition of the season at Texas A&M when her 4,555-point effort established an NCAA and Canadian record. She comes in ranked No. 1 in the nation and again is the heavy favorite in the pentathlon at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Another title would be quite the accomplishment considering what she has endured. The pain progressively worsened leading into the championships last season and it stumped her. For sure this was not her garden variety nicks and aches. This was something different.
“I was surprised at how bad it got in those two weeks [prior to the competition],” Theisen said. “I thought that I would be able to get through the pentathlon and I did. It was a lot worse than I thought it would be. I finished that event and the next two weeks it hit. I didn’t want to get out of bed.
“I was taking Tylenol to mask the pain while I was competing. It was like really after when we got home, you stop taking all those pain killers and you are like, ‘Whoa, my body is killing me.’ It hurts after a pentathlon even if you’re not injured, but getting out of bed and walking for a while was not fun.”
Theisen tried everything to treat it. Initially it was thought to be a disc problem, but when injections and epidurals and other treatments worked temporarily and failed over time, it became more frustrating.
Eventually it was discovered that it was a fascia injury in the lower back. A couple of weeks of treatment had her back to normal, but her outdoor season was lost. If anything she didn’t like losing time with her teammates .That she is even here competing speaks to how well she is feeling and how special of a place she thinks Oregon is.
She had other options, ones she considered when it seemed she was not healing well. After all she already has her degree in business, is engaged and will represent Canada in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. With five titles to her name (both indoor and outdoor) moving on would be understandable.
“I saw that I had another chance, I had a fifth year,” Theisen said. “I had been thinking if I should I come back and do the NCAA school thing, or come out and run on my own. But I also was thinking my four years are done, and I didn’t appreciate it enough. I have another year, another chance, to appreciate all of that. I decided to come back this year and really have fun.”
This, of course is a huge plus for Oregon.
“Brianne Theisen decided to come back this year, which is kind of a big deal,” Oregon head coach Vin Lananna said. “She’s obviously one of the top pentathletes in Canada, so as a result, her decision to stay at Oregon a fifth year was a big one. “We’re happy that she’s back and happy that she’s leading the team. She’s our team captain and she’s also an athlete that leads by example so we’re glad she’s here.”
Lananna has watched her grow into a world-class athlete over the course of five years. Her name is all over the record books on each side of the border and it is her drive and ability to excel in a variety of events that makes her so special.
“She’s really developed well,” Lananna said. “We’ve been very fortunate that she’s picked up each event [well]. She’s good in all of them. We look at her versatility. But most important she’s very focused on end results and really doing well at the highest level. “
With that commitment to excellence comes a little self-admitted nuttiness. Her injury was as much a mental battle to overcome as a physical one. The down time was brutal.
“I’m a worry wart,” Theisen said. “Anyone who knows me would call me that. When I heard it was a herniated disc, I’d heard so many horror stories from people. I heard, ‘You’ll never be the same. That one leg will always be numb. That it’s really hard to come back from it.’ People tell you those things and you can’t help but jump to the worst possible scenario. That was the worst part hearing all the things the people were telling me.
“As much as you try not to, it is hard to completely block them out. One hour I’ll be like, ‘It’s fine, it’s fine.’ Then the next hour it is, ‘I’m never going to compete again.’ It’s just this constant battle between positive thinking and negative thinking. I struggle with that a lot. And three months really isn’t that long to sit out and not do track [as she did while recovering]. But to somebody, who that’s all they know how to do, it feels like a lifetime. I am just glad to be back. My goal is to have solid performances in each event. Generally when I can do that, the whole pentathlon takes care of itself.