By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Injuries are always scary, but broken bones are terrifying.
Running has always been in South Salem Senior’s Mackenzie Caprino’s life, ever since she was five years old. Competing with Salem Track Club, running in Middle School and eventually to the High School level with the Saxons.
But, as her High School career was just beginning, tragedy hit. Her world was flipped upside down.
“So, the accident happened at practice while playing a game, and I accidentally collided with two older male teammates of mine and so it ended up being a compound fracture, being almost all the way through the bone,” said Caprino.
It was September 30. The verdict: compound fracture on her tibia. The shinbone.
Her leg was in a full-length cast and the then-freshman was in a wheelchair for a month. Two shorter case on the leg followed before going with a walking boot that lasted until the end of December.
“The recovery process was very long, and frustrating. It was hard knowing that I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things much less run. It did help however that I still came to practice at least a couple times a week, and I came to all the meets. I would crutch around and try to be apart of the team activities as much as I could,” said Caprinio.
Her family weren’t sure if she’ll ever return, but Caprino was driven to come back better than ever. As good, if not better than she was before the injury.
Running was all she knew. It was part of her identity Caprino said, an outlet. She returned to Track that year, but lost almost all of the strength in the leg and was still working through Physical Therapy during the tail-end of her freshman year.
“I slowly worked back into training, and competing with my team and my coach. The recovery was still a slow process, I was barely able to run and I was still very weak on my right side, but I continued to do strength training, and continued to work hard. I ended up lettering again in track,” Caprino said.
The time away made her appreciate how much the sport was to her. Sophomore year became a makeup year for her as she returned to form, wanting to get better and better and worked on her mental toughness and mental outlook going through her sophomore and then into her Junior year.
“Not being able to run really made me realize how important it was to me, and that I had taken it for granted so by the time I was able to get back, I had never been so determined. I would train harder than ever to get back, and that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I put the work in,” Caprino said. “My mental outlook changed for the better and I fell in love with running again.”
She lettered in Cross Country and Track Sophomore year and had attended Steens Mountain Running Camp before the start of her Junior Year, finding a second home at the camp in Harney County in Southeastern Oregon.
That Fall in Cross Country, South Salem finished second in the conference and tenth at the State Meet. Caprino finished 128th at State with a time of 21:31 while seeing improvement in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter races in Track.
The dream was to compete at the college level, but it felt like at a time it was just that. But Caprino had to keep working on it. She went back to Steens before her Senior year and posted a lifetime best of 19:28 her Senior year in Cross Country, earning second-team All-Conference in the Mountain Valley Conference. Hard to believe that she went from a 24-minute 5K freshman year to a 19:28 her Senior Year.
But she couldn’t have done it without the help of her team and her coach.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without my amazing team and my coach; Alisha Murdoch who has forever changed my attitude towards running and who has constantly been by my side, supported everything that I do, and constantly pushes me to me my best,” said Caprino.
Caprino will be taking her talents to CSU-Monterey Bay, about two hours south of San Francisco, for Cross Country and Track and majoring in Marine Science.
“The marine science program is amazing,” Caprino said. “We’re lucky to have campus a couple blocks from the ocean, and be so close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We also have an amazing scuba diving program, which works closely with the marine science students to get some rime out in the field. So, I have a lot to look forward to when we are able to get onto campus.”
But even when Caprino arrives in California, it’ll be a waiting game before she could and can compete again as the California State University-system has decided to go online for the Fall. Cancelling all Fall Sports in the process.
As devastating as it is for the South Salem-graduated, she knows she’s not alone. It just gives her an opportunity to continue to improve, continue to get better in more ways than not for when Track season rolls around in the Spring on the California coast.
“When I heard the news about the CSU system going online this fall, and all fall sports being cancelled, I was devastated. I have worked so hard to get where I am and to go from not being able to finish my senior year track season, and now not being able to run in the fall for cross country was really hard, but I know that I am not alone, and that I have my new team, and my team at South to support me,” said Caprino.
“I now am looking at this time to continue to train, and to continue to get stronger mentally as an athlete. I think a big thing mentally, is to stay engaged, and stay passionate about what you do, and I know I still have so much left in the tank and I have never been so invested in my running. It will for sure be different to go without two seasons of competition, but I know that it will just make me that much hungrier for we are able to go back into competition. I am also so lucky to have such an amazing team and coach at Monterey, so I know we will all be training together, and staying in touch virtually, as well as help at South as much as I can.”