On a summer training run in June, Kyle Wray felt a familiar pain shoot through his right shin. He had only been running for about two weeks after recovering from a fractured left tibia that forced him to miss a second consecutive track and field season when the unmistakable sensation moved to his right leg.
The Lakewood Ranch High School rising junior knew he would be sidelined again. Tests confirmed it: He had fractured his right tibia, adding to a laundry list of injuries that had plagued him since the fall of his freshman year and preventing him from building on that strong debut.
There was a fractured third metatarsal in his right foot that kept him off the track for the entire spring of his freshman year. A pulled groin halted his sophomore cross country season just before districts. The fractured left tibia kept him off the track for another spring.
His latest return to running was his briefest yet.
“I caught it really early because I obviously knew what it felt like,” Wray said. “The first day I felt it I was very disappointed obviously to know, but I knew what it was.”
Wray was diagnosed with a fractured right tibia, his fourth major injury in less than three years at Lakewood Ranch. A series of blood tests couldn’t turn up the cause of his rash of injuries. His bone density was fine. He had plenty of vitamin D, and tests for phosphorus and calcium in his bones both exceeded expectations.
“They couldn’t really pin down what it was,” Wray said.
Wray has made it through this cross country season by altering his training regimen. His focus has been on being at full strength for the postseason, which continues with the Class 4A-Region 3 meet on Friday at Holloway Park in Lakeland. The Mustang boys, who won the Class 4A-District 8 meet last Thursday, will run at 10 a.m., along with Manatee’s Marcel Sanchez, who qualified as an individual. Lakewood Ranch’s girls race at 9:20 a.m. along with the Hurricanes’ Alison Ecker and Raquel Lespasio.
The Class 2A-Region 3 and Class 1A-Region 2 meets will also be held at Holloway Park. Southeast’s girls are scheduled to run at 8 a.m., and Bayshore’s Adan Lopez will run in the boys race at 8:40 a.m. Saint Stephen’s boys and girls teams, which won both Class 1A-District 7 championships last Thursday, will run at 10:20 a.m. and 9:40 a.m., respectively. Also running in the Class 1A-District 7 boys race are Out-of-Door Academy and Cardinal Mooney. The Cougars qualified as a team for the girls race and Out-of-Door’s Maeve Studdiford and Carling Landeche qualified as individuals.
The Palmetto girls team and Braden River’s Brendan Beardsley will run in the Class 3A-Region 3 race on Friday in Estero. The girls race begins at 7:45 a.m. at Estero Community Park Recreation Center and the boys start at 8:30 a.m.
Regionals were where the Lakewood Ranch boys’ run ended a year ago. A rash of injuries, most notably to Wray, kept them from qualifying for the Class 4A meet. Wray’s groin injury shut him down before districts, and a stress fracture in John Rivera’s foot left him with one of his slowest times of the year in the region championship.
“A good part of that, on paper, was certainly that Kyle didn’t run,” Lakewood Ranch boys head coach Bryan Thomas said. “If we would’ve had Kyle, we would’ve pretty certainly made it to the state final.”
Wray, Thomas and Wray’s doctors crafted this year’s plan following his summer injury. The junior limits his running to only four or five days per week. He’ll usually do a long run by himself on Sunday and then spend two days practicing with his teammates Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, when the rest of the Mustangs are usually out running by Lakewood Ranch High School, Wray goes to the YMCA, where he’ll swim. He finishes the week running with his team.
He also switched shoes, using a softer sole, and he seldom runs on pavement — anything he could do to ensure health through the fall and, ideally, long enough to get him finally ready for track and field.
“I didn’t really know what a rest day was, to be honest,” Wray said. “That didn’t work toward my sophomore year.”
Wray said the district meet in Largo was the first time he had run 100 percent this fall. He finished the 5K in 17:00.16, seventh overall and second on his team, behind only district-champion Rivera.
With Wray back in the fold, the Mustangs are on the short list of favorites Friday.
“That’s really pushed me this year to stay healthy and do what I need to do to help the team,” Wray said. “It’s been working, so, hopefully, we can get going and do well this year.”