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Central Valley’s Corey Hunter, second from left, overcame an injury to help the Bears win the State 4A cross country title. (Colin Mulvany)

Cross Country deals with injury-bug blues

Injuries are an on-the-job hazard for distance runners. Training overload, the constant pounding over the highways and byways, can take its toll.

A brilliant, course record-setting season-opening race at the Tracy Walters Invitational last September was a harbinger of state title promise for North Central’s Kai Wilmot. But muscular-skeletal injuries, including a stress fracture last spring, cost the junior talent virtually his entire cross country and track and field seasons.

Indians coach Jon Knight surmises that because he grew so fast – he’s now 5 inches taller – that hard workouts took their toll.

“He’s such a talent,” Knight said, “that honestly, I think what happens is his aerobic capacity is so great, the legs broke down.”

Wilmot has cut back on the volume of his training and replaced it with more time in a pool, on a bike and one less day on the road. At this year’s Walters Invite, he finished second to Mt. Spokane standout John Dressel some 30 seconds slower than the previous year.

To a lesser degree, injuries set back Central Valley senior Corey Hunter too, also in both fall and spring. But Hunter was able to come back in time to play an integral part in the Bears first State 4A cross country championship.

“He came roaring back and just ran beautifully,” Bears coach Kieran Mahoney explained. “He had just come off an injury a couple weeks before, ran 16:01 and helped us win the title.”

The injuries were nagging, Hunter said. Ironically, the one during cross country likely occurred from bike riding.

“I had some pain in my left knee. This occurred maybe the second week of the season. Coach said it was maybe an overuse thing,” Hunter said.

He had fluid drained from the knee and was back in action two weeks later.

“I had to catch up,” he added. “The whole team helped me get back.”

After a good winter’s training, Hunter came up lame with a hip flexor injury in track. Rehabilitation got him back to competition in the postseason.

Lesson learned, “we really listen to our bodies now,” Hunter said, “all the things that add up to a healthy team season.”

A team pushing, pulling and encouraging one another produced last year’s state title.

“I was really glad I had the opportunity to come back and not miss it,” Hunter said. “They’d have done it with me or without me, but, yeah, I was happy with my result.”

Wilmot is essential in NC’s quest for an eighth straight state title in the Class 3A meet in November. Hunter was the top finisher at the Walters race for a team that returns six members of their 4A champs.

With five of seven individuals scoring in a race, for any school keeping its runners healthy is a must.