EUGENE, Ore. -- For someone who doesn’t have an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, Henry Vildosola has accomplished quite a bit in his Baylor career.
The crowning achievement for Vildosola, a senior, was qualifying in the decathlon for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He was the final qualifier and ended up finishing 17th out of 24 entrants.“Henry is an amazing athlete,” Baylor head coach Todd Harbour said. “He's one of those stories that kind of gets overlooked with all of the great athletes we have at Baylor. But how many do you know who can compete with a blown ACL in the kind of events he's doing right now?”
Though Vildosola was able to make an inspirational run to the tournament, it wasn't enough to lift the Bears to the title. They finished with 21 points -- good for eighth -- as Oregon won the title with 88 points.
The fact that Vildosola was able to compete speaks to his resolve. Vildosola battled through not one but two major knee injuries.
The first happened when he was a freshman. He was pole vaulting at the Texas Relays and felt something pop in his knee.
“When I first injured it, it was in the middle of competition and I had some adrenaline going,” Vildosola said. “Coach asked me if I wanted to stop but I said give me a minute, maybe the pain will wear off and it did. I got a PR [personal record] so I didn’t think it wasn’t too bad.”
But it was. The next day it was swollen and it was hard to walk.
"I knew it was serious but I didn’t think it was a torn ACL,” Vildosola said. “I knew something was wrong. I got the MRI and they told me the ACL was torn. That was a bad way to end my freshman year. I thought I might have to take a few weeks off and I would be OK.”
Instead he underwent surgery and then began the painful process of rehab.
“The rehab is tougher mentally,” Vildosola said. “The hardest part is not being able to do your sport and you feel like a caged animal. I think one of the hardest parts, as well, that not a lot people realize is that it is lonely. You are in a cold, quiet room with other athletes whose careers may be over. You are going in there working your butt off and you don’t know if you are coming back or if you do if you are coming back the same. You aren’t with your team and it feels like prison.”
Nine months later, Vildosola was back on the track but with a new concern.
“I was cleared to practice,” Vildosola said. “Indoor season that year was rough, but outdoor season was a little better. I figured I would train over the summer and be ready for next year.”
That plan lasted about a week. Vildosola was doing some training with hurdles and heard that pop in his knee. He knew immediately what it was.
“I didn’t want to believe it but that night it swelled up on me pretty bad,” Vildosola said. “Next day I couldn’t walk on it for a couple days and couldn’t run on it for a couple of weeks.”
Facing surgery didn’t seem like an appealing option so this time Vildosola decided to bypass the knife and try something a little more holistic.
“I said to myself, 'I tried it their way now I am going to try it my way,' ” Vildosola said. “If it doesn’t work out I’ll let the trainers know and go from there. I have two, three months before I go back to school and proceed with the best plan of action I should take.”
Vildosola devised a plan that would strengthen the knee and make surgery unnecessary.
“I took a few weeks completely off and then started to slowly walk and then skipping, then jogging,” Vildosola said. “Eventually I was able to start sprinting on it again. Once I got to that point I started doing a lot more weightlifting for my legs to get them stronger and be able to handle not having an ACL.”
The plan was not a popular one with the coaches, his teammates and a lot of his friends.
“Plenty of people tried to talk me into having surgery,” Vildosola said. “There we just looking out for me. A lot of people thought the decision was rash or that I was scared or emotional. Maybe I was but it was also logical and thought out. I thought about it for a while.”
He sat out the indoor season and then came back for the outdoor campaign. He finished eighth at the conference championships, earning All-Big 12 Conference honors.
This year Vildosola finished the Texas Relays with five personal records, and a score of 7,112, a personal best and the second-most points accumulated in the decathlon in school history.
Getting into the NCAAs was a nail-biting experience for Vildosola, who was sitting on the final spot and didn’t know for 24 hours if he had made it.
‘It was stressful looking at the computer all night,” he said. “I went to sleep not knowing. In the morning I saw it was final and then at breakfast all the coaches told me.”
No one was happier than his coach.
“I was pulling for him as much as any athlete on our team just to get one of those 24 spots,” Harbour said. “He's just a hard-working young man. I'm just very proud for Henry.”