Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 9:09 pm | Updated: 9:14 pm, Wed Sep 16, 2015.
By AARON KENNEDY firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite winning the race in each of her first three years, it was not a foregone conclusion that Rossville senior Lauren Bright would cross the finish line in first place during Saturday’s county cross-country meet at Clinton Central High School.
Roughly six months earlier, Bright had slowed to turn into her driveway when she was rear-ended by a car traveling at over 50 miles per hour. She was able to walk away from the crash but had suffered a concussion, a broken nose, a broken upper-jaw and cracked teeth.
“I got a call from my wife. She heard it happen,” her father, Clinton County police officer Brendon Bright said. You just never know. Even thought I have seen a lot of wrecks in my time, this one was a little different.”
The accident occurred just before the start of her junior track season, and the standout distance runner was forced to miss a few weeks while she recovered from her injuries.
“I couldn’t run for 24 days because, once I was healed, I had to have my nose re-broken because it was crooked, and then I was out even longer,” Bright remembered. “I asked the doctor right away how long I would be out for, and he said it shouldn’t be very long. But, once I started running, I was feeling nauseous. I knew my track career would be affected. I couldn’t run until all my symptoms went away.”
A conference champion, county champion and regional qualifier in the 3,200-meter run as a sophomore the season before, Bright was never able to get back to her high level of performance during the 2015 track and field season.
“Needless to say, that was a blow,” Rossville cross-country head coach Rick Foster said. “That pretty much ruined her junior year of track, and she never was able to really get in shape in track. It was pretty much a lost season. Those things happen, but you wish they didn’t.”
The incident had Bright struggling to get back to where she wanted to be deep into the summer.
“Normally, at the end of track, she is in really good condition, and then we start her summer conditioning,” Foster said. “This year, she was behind because of the accident, so she missed a fair amount. She had kind of been behind, but she is catching up very quickly.”
Her work to get back into championship form became apparent Saturday, when she was able to complete her goal of winning four straight wins in the annual Clinton County Meet. Bright crossed the finish line at 21 minutes and 10.18 seconds, 23 seconds ahead of her Clinton Prairie friend, Rosie Tolley, who was runner-up in the race, and 32 seconds ahead of Frankfort’s top runner, Kaylee Arthur.
Arthur had finished ahead of Bright one week earlier at the Harrison Invitational.
“I was thinking I had to stay with her because I really wanted to win it again,” Bright said. “About a mile and a quarter into it, I realized that I wasn’t as tired as the other girls seemed to be, so I start to pull away. That’s where my coach said I won the race – in the second mile.”
Bright’s parents were waiting for her at the finish line.
“It was right before I got to the finish line,” she said. “I saw my mom, and she was crying. I knew I had it. Once I finished, I started crying. It was a really awesome feeling.”
Though she already has two conference titles to her name and was a regional qualifier as a freshman and a semi-state qualifier the past two seasons, Saturday’s win meant the most to Bright.
Her parents must have felt the same.
“It was pretty emotional for me,” her father said. “When she crossed, of all the races she has won, it was the most emotional. We had not talked about it much, so she would not put more pressure on herself. When she crossed the finish line, she was emotional, and I have never seen that from her. It was a proud moment for a father.
“She never really got it going during the track season,” he added. “We were curious how she was going to bounce back. She really put forth the effort to get back to where she was.”
Bright actually credits last spring’s accident for a change in how she approaches each race now.
“The lessons I learn from being in this accident, I wouldn’t trade for anything,” she said. “I realized that nothing is promised after today so you do have to race each race like it is your last and not hold anything back.
“I had to control the things that I could,” she added. “I put in more miles and train harder to get back to the point where I wanted to be.”
And Bright is by no means done with her journey. Still in the thick of the high school cross-country season, Bright says she wants to help her Hornets become conference champions.
“I think our competition will probably be Clinton Prairie, so I would like to beat them,” she said. “I would also like to make it to at least semi-state again.”
Foster is confident that his top runner can achieve that goal.
“I think she will be in pretty decent shape by conference and running better times,” he said. “She is coming along just fine. Come tournament time, I think she will advance out of the regional and make it back to semi-state
“She is a great kid,” he added. “She is very well-rounded. She’s the class president and has a 4.0 (grade-point) average. She is a leader on the team and constantly organizing social events for them. It has been a pleasure to coach her.”
Bright’s personality and work ethic has garnered the respect and attention of many of her school’s rivals.
“She is doing a really good job and looks like herself again,” Clinton Prairie head coach Byron Garrett said. “She is just a really sweet girl. You couldn’t ask for a nicer person, and she is probably one of the hardest working girls I know. She is a very dedicated person.”
It was clear that Rossville had something special when Bright, who also played volleyball and soccer, began running cross-county in eighth grade and won each dual meet she ran in.
“That is when I realized that I could do pretty well in high school if I stuck with cross-country,” she said. “That is when I dropped soccer and started focusing on cross-country.”
Bright stopped playing volleyball after sophomore season to focus solely on running.
Foster already knew he had a good runner when Bright showed up to her first practice as a freshman.
“She was obviously a very accomplished middle school runner, so I knew she had talent,” he said. “Right off the bat, she established herself as a pretty good runner.”
The other coaches in the area took notice soon afterward.
“I could tell she was very good,” Garrett said. “She was consistent. You could tell she was focused and had a goal in mind. You can tell when a runner has that look. She runs with great ease and makes it look like there isn’t any effort in it. She is a smooth runner.”
Bright will continue to push toward setting new personal-best times achieving postseason goals – then comes training for the track season. If she continues to run after that is still up in the air.
“I have thought about it,” she said. “I had a couple colleges tell me I could run for them, and I am not sure yet. It depends on what I decide to major in. I am thinking about maybe Purdue or Anderson. Those are probably the big ones, for sure.”
Whatever the Rossville scholar-athlete chooses to do, she appears to be running toward a bright future.