HINCKLEY – Injuries typically aren’t blessings. But Illinois State track and field coach Jeff Bovee sees one involving runner Audrey Harrod as just that.
Harrod, a Hinckley-Big Rock graduate who just completed her freshman year with the Redbirds, was forced to sit out a majority of the season due to a stress fracture in her right leg.
The 2017 Daily Chronicle Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year missed the entire indoor track season and nearly half of the outdoor season because of the injury she suffered at the end of her high school career.
“She was very eager to compete outdoors, even though we knew her fitness wasn’t where she wanted it to be,” Bovee said.
Harrod remembers spending many days inside her dorm room at Haynie Hall, wanting to be outside training with her teammates. Oftentimes during her recovery process, Bovee required Harrod to cross-train rather than work out with the rest of her teammates.
“It hurt seeing everybody else go outside and do a hard workout, and here I am on the elliptical or in the pool,” Harrod said. “I have so much energy, and I can’t burn it off just cross-training.
“I get antsy.”
Bovee boasts 25-plus years of collegiate coaching experience, including 12 at ISU. He’s mentored and trained thousands of athletes and coached 100-plus All-Conference performers.
He said he knows what it takes to compete at the highest level. Although Harrod sat out half of her freshman season because of injury, Bovee sees those top qualities in her.
“She’s one of the most ultimate competitive athletes I’ve ever coached,” he said. “She’s an ultimate competitor. She’s just fantastic to coach. Audrey is eager and wants to get better every single day.”
Once the stress fracture in her tibia finally healed, Harrod competed during the last half of the outdoor season. She wasn’t proud of her times, but was absolutely thrilled to be back on the track.
Midway through her freshman season, Harrod and Bovee weighed the possibilities of Harrod redshirting. After sitting out for nearly a year, Harrod squashed that discussion, running in the 800-meter race at the Black & Gold Invitational on March 23 at Vanderbilt. She also ran on the Redbirds’ 4x400 relay team this past spring.
“I needed that refresher – I needed to compete,” Harrod said. “Being able to go out and race and give everything I had, even though what I had wasn’t what I wanted to have, that is what defines me. Once I was on the track again, I found myself enjoying every minute.
“Looking back, going through an injury for the first time ever, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Harrod, who concluded her high school career as a nine-time All-State athlete, competed in only four meets as a freshman. Neither she nor her coach would trade that experience for anything.
“We needed her to get out and expose her to Division I competition,” Bovee said. “It was worth that to get her back out there. She’s got a great upside, and she’s eager to make a much bigger step this summer.”
Although no coach ever wishes any athlete to go through an injury, Bovee said Harrod matured mentally throughout the process.
The pair remains confident Harrod’s mid-distance times will improve next season, and Bovee hopes all the “antsy-feelings” are out of the rising sophomore’s system.
“I joke with her, things can be too calculated,” Bovee said. I don’t want her to think about things as much, that’s our next step. She’ll need to let go of trying to plan out her course and just listen to what her body tells her.
“Her competitiveness will take care of itself.”