Back on track | Health Beat
Zeeland East High School student Allie Delost has always loved to run.
It started with neighborhood fun runs as a 3-year-old and, by fifth grade, it blossomed into competitive running.
“I really enjoyed it and I was one of the faster kids,” she said. “I could keep up with the boys.”
Later, she found her calling in track and field.
“I love the feeling of the wind in my hair, the crowd yelling,” Allie said. “I love it when the gun goes off. I just love the adrenaline rush that I get from it.”
In January, however, that excitement came to an abrupt halt when she suffered a severe hamstring injury.
It happened in a single stride.
“We were doing winter indoor training, and we were at the end of our sprint set,” Zeeland East High School track coach Lars Draeger said. “She was getting some good top-end speed, popping her knees up, but then she pulled through and went down really hard on the ground.
“Going over to her, I could see an avulsion on the back of her leg and just knew we had to get her to the hospital to get her stabilized.”
Draeger carried Allie to his car and drove her to Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital, where the care team met Allie and her parents.
The diagnosis: a hamstring tear.
It would require extensive physical therapy.
“When it first happened, my initial reaction was, ‘I can’t believe this, I’ve worked really hard,’” Allie said. “I guess I over-strided a little bit. I felt it shift and felt it pop over the other ligament.”
When they returned home, Angie, Allie’s mother, could see her disappointment.
“She couldn’t put any weight on it and she was crying,” Angie said. “It hurt really bad. I think she felt kind of hopeless, as she was so excited and the season was starting.”
“I was super excited to run at Zeeland, not only because it was going to be my first year, but because of the reputation Zeeland has built for girls track and field,” Allie said. “I had a bunch of goals to come in and really help the program and genuinely get to know the girls.”
Not long before Allie’s injury, the Delost family had moved to Zeeland, Michigan, from Metamora, Illinois.
Allie was just getting into the swing of things as a junior at East Zeeland High School.
With this type of injury, she knew she’d have to table her goals for the indoor track season and instead focus on healing in time for outdoor track.
“It was really sad to think my dreams were going to be put aside for an entire track season,” she said. “It’s hard when you love something as much as I love track, to have to stay on the sidelines.”
She soon met with Zeeland Community Hospital physical therapist Eric Hamilton. She had already worked with him a few months prior for some chronic tendonitis in her ankle.
Hamilton quickly helped her put things into perspective.
“He said, ‘If you genuinely want this and if you want to work hard enough for this—if you want it bad enough—you can do this,’” Allie said. “He did a really good job of making me feel like, at the end of the day, I did have control over a lot more things than I thought I did.”
While she wouldn’t be able to run for a few weeks, she could accomplish other things.
“Eric definitely kept me moving,” Allie said. “I stretched every day. There were some funky stretches that stretched different parts of my hamstring that I hadn’t stretched before. It was great.”
Hamilton helped her set goals, too.
“Eventually, the goal was to qualify for state,” Allie said. “Then, after that, the goal was to place at state.”
Hamilton used blood-flow restriction techniques to build muscle, as well massages, dry needling and electrical stimulation. He helped Allie follow exercises that replicated movements she’d use in track.
“We have the equipment to make it feel like she was running track again, which helps with the buy-in,” Hamilton said.
He also used a pain-tolerated exercise approach, allowing Allie to feel some pain while her hamstring healed.
“I think in the end, it showed her you can push through some stuff and it’s not going to make it worse—it’s actually going to make it stronger, because we have to build that muscle back up to handle the stress and load,” Hamilton said.
They started with isometrics, then moved to full range of motion, then weighted movements. They later advanced to more biometrics and speed drills related to track and field movements.
At Spectrum Health outpatient rehabilitation – Zeeland, Allie practiced using runner’s blocks, simulating a race-type atmosphere.
“We can prep them as much as we can for the actual day,” Hamilton said.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Hamilton worked with Draeger and school athletic trainer Katie Putnam to develop a plan to get Allie healthy in time for her outdoor track season as a junior.
They targeted key races toward the end of the school year.
On their calendars, they all circled June 4, 2022.
The date of state finals.
As a team, they followed the plan.
“With Eric’s knowledge and expertise, he’s phenomenal,” Draeger said. “The cooperation we have between Eric and myself, the trainer and her parents, the rehab was very smooth.”
Allie’s mom could see it all come together.
“There was this mutual respect and collaboration amongst the team,” Angie said. “And Eric went above and beyond to ensure there was really great communication so she could have a good outcome.”
Also in Allie’s corner is her father, Matt, her brother, Ben, and the family’s two rescue dogs, Saffy and Liza Jane.
“I like hanging out with my dogs. They’re always reliable,” Allie said. “With my injury, they would lick my hamstring like they could tell something was wrong. They were a big part in helping me stay positive.”
Her faith buoyed her, too.
“We prayed a lot,” she said. “We know there’s a reason for everything and there’s a reason God put this challenge in front of me.
“If I can share my story and help other athletes, there’s always a reason for stuff. And we just believed there was going to be a reason for this—and the outcome was going to be good.”
‘She’s a tough kid’
With aspirations to run track in college, Allie knew that her performances in her junior and senior years would be important. She put full faith in Hamilton’s approaches.
“I tell my patients to trust me and trust the process,” Hamilton said. “She really did that. We were able to get her quickly back.”
Allie met with her trainer every day and followed the regimen.
“She’s a tough kid,” Hamilton said. “I was able to push her probably more than I would be able to push other people.”
Added Draeger: “She’s one of those girls who just wants to work, work, work. She has good leadership skills. Leading by example is one of her strong points. She always wants to be at the front of the pack with whatever drill we’re doing.”
Hamilton also worked to help Allie build confidence in all aspects of healing.
“As much as it’s physical therapy, what people don’t understand a lot of times, the mental side of it is important,” Hamilton said. “Especially nursing something that maybe, in their mind, is something they may reinjure at any moment.”
With sprinters, especially, hamstrings can be delicate.
“We prepped her as much as we could to show her that she could do this and her hamstring can take it, and her body can take it and she was ready to go,” Hamilton said. “That gave her a lot of confidence going into races.
“I told her every Friday, ‘Just go rip it’—to just go for it.”
‘Going to state is amazing’
Rip it, she did.
Competing in the outdoor track season in her junior year, Allie went on to break Zeeland East girls track records in five events: the 60-meter dash, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and the 4×100 and 4×200 meter relays.
Hamilton would check her results online after each track meet.
“I was as pumped for her as she was probably,” he said. “It feels good. She trusted all of us and when we told her to go rip it … she did. She killed it.”
She set a personal best of 12.4 seconds in the 100-meter dash at a meet in Jackson and placed eighth in the event at the state meet, earning all-state honors.
Both relay teams she participated in also placed at the state meet.
“Going to state is amazing,” Allie said. “It’s a feeling you can’t even describe.”
Now in her senior year, she has set goals to beat some school records.
She’d like to achieve the 100-meter dash in 12.1 seconds or 12.2 seconds. She hopes to place higher at the state championship meet next year—ideally in the Top 4.
Years ago, she also set a goal to run in college.
And she’s now being recruited to do just that. She’s considering multiple schools and she plans to pursue a career in nursing.
“I want to go somewhere I feel valued as an athlete, on and off the track,” Allie said.
As her senior year kicks off, she’s gained profound new lessons in overcoming adversity.
“Track, for me, relates to a lot of things in life,” she said. “This injury is a good example. No matter what you do in life, there’s always going to be bumps in the road. But it’s how you react to those bumps.”