CC runner gets back to action sooner than expected
Alta High senior Halley Cranston has always loved running.
"It was always just a lot of fun and relaxing," she said Sunday night at the Hy-Vee grocery store in Storm Lake, where she works part-time.
"But it's not as fun as it used to be, and it's a lot harder now."
As a sophomore and junior, Cranston was the top runner for the Cyclone girls cross country team.
Now, she's fortunate just to be running.
Last March 4, a car Cranston was driving rammed into the back of a semi-truck on a county road during blizzard-like conditions just before school started in Alta.
Halley's left knee slammed into the dashboard and her knee cap was shattered. Her 13-year-old sister Julie sustained a broken arm and facial cuts, but both were lucky simply to have survived.
"I just remember it was snowing really hard and the road was extremely slippery," Cranston added. "I never knew I was following a semi, it was that hard to see.
"When I got to the top of a hill, all I saw was the truck's lights and I knew it was stopped and turning. I slammed on my breaks, hit the truck and went into the ditch on the left side of the road. Then, we hit a pole there and finally stopped."
Cranston says she was in shock after the accident but her first concern was for her sister, who was knocked unconscious for a short time.
"I remember looking down at my knee and there was this big dent in it," she said. "I knew it was hurt badly and it was painful. It was a cold morning and and when I started shaking, it really hurt."
That night, doctors performed surgery to reconstruct Halley's knee. They took out a small section and drilled four holes in the knee cap, then sewed it together.
"They told me it was like a button," she said.
One of her first concerns was whether she'd be able to play sports for Alta her senior year.
"I asked the doctor if I'd be able to run cross country in the fall and he told me it would take a year to recover and that I probably wouldn't be able to," she said.
She added that the doctor was amused by her pluckiness.
"He just sort of laughed when I asked him that," she said.
After a long and inspiring story of rehabilitation, Cranston ran in Alta's first meet two weeks, ago, but finished dead last.
"It was depressing to be last, because it's so hard to run now," she said. "It used to be easy, but now it's more of a chore.
My knee swelled up a lot after the meet and my other leg hurt because I was favoring it so much."
Still, it was nothing short of a miracle that Halley was ready for the start of the cross country season.
For a full week after the surgery, she couldn't move her knee. For the first few weeks, doctors gave her a leg brace that was successively bent as time went on to facilitate flexibility in the leg.
"I can't remember what they called the brace," she said with a laugh. "But I called it my 'robo leg.'"
She was on crutches for six weeks after the accident then began serious rehab. She knew the harder she worked on that, the better chance she'd be able to start the cross country season.
"It was probably the most painful thing I've ever been through," Halley said. "The physical therapist would bend my knee back as far as it would go until it got too painful. But I really wanted to get back to cross country."
She also swam daily for a month to increase muscle strength in both of her legs and to stay in shape. Halley did extra rehab work at home, including stretching and other exercises in her spare time.
"But I gained over 20 pounds before and during the rehab, so right now at the start of the season, I'm really out of shape. But it is nice to be running again and getting back into better condition," she added.
Meanwhile, the accident will prevent Cranston from participating in other sports. She's been a starter on the Alta girls basketball and softball teams each of the past two years, but her high school sports career will come to an end after the cross country season.
"I just decided it was too risky to play basketball or softball, so the only sport I'm going out for is cross country," she added. "In those other sports, there's always a chance you could bang knees with other players or take a bad fall. I want to be sure I have a good leg when I'm older. But it's still disappointing to just play one sport.}
Meanwhile, it's been an emotional seven months for Halley.
"I remember the first step I took after the surgery," she said. "It just took so much effort that that moment really sticks in my mind.
"But I don't take anything for granted anymore, and I'm lucky just to be walking. And I'm really grateful to be running again, even though it isn't as easy as it used to be. I never thought I'd be able to do it this soon."