Gallander overcomes back surgeries to finish senior track season
By LANCE CATCHINGS
By the end of Rachel Gallander’s sophomore season, she was already a two-time State Champion in the 4×400-meter relay. She had big plans for her future track career until she started having back pain and everything changed.
“At the end of my sophomore track season, I started having some lower back pain,” Gallander said. “It never raised any concerns until the summer of 2016. My mom took me in to see a doctor and I found out that I had scoliosis and two herniated discs. From that point, we started different types of therapy, but none of it really helped me. We turned to steroid injections, but that didn’t really help either. Our last option was surgery, so I had a microdiscectomy. They cut off a portion of your disc that is on your nerve to relieve the pain.”
After a successful surgery, Gallander was ready to get back on the road to recovery and back on the track. Unfortunately in life, things don’t always go as planned.
“After my surgery, I had a three-month recovery period,” she said. “Coming up to track season in 2017, I was recovering and working out. I felt good about competing that year and really had high hopes for the season. About a month into working out, I started having pain on my right side from my other disc.”
After getting checked by a doctor, she got the worst news a student-athlete could hear.
“My doctor told me I needed to stop running and stop working out,” she said. “I then realized my junior year track season was over before it even began. From that point, I decided to go straight to surgery. I didn’t want to give up track, so I became a manager for that year. I had my surgery over the summer and recovered. I got back into track and started competing this season again. It feels really good to be back with all of my teammates.”
Gallander said when she originally heard the news, she was afraid, but a strong support system gave her hope.
“When I originally got the diagnosis, I was terrified,” she said. “They said it was extremely rare for a 16-year-old girl to have scoliosis and two herniated discs. At the time, I was in volleyball season, but I had to stop playing because of the impact on my spine. I didn’t know how to handle myself at first. It all just hit me at once.”
After an almost two-year absence, Rachel is back competing for the purple and gold. She recently took third place in the open 400-meter dash at the Leander Glenn relays. She also helped the 4×400-meter relay team to a second-place finish.
“It feels amazing right now to be back,” she said. “I love competing and I love running with my teammates. It was definitely a hard situation and took an emotional toll on me. Track had been my life since forever, and my family has always been so supportive. I have been waiting since my sophomore year for the chance to compete again, so I am just excited for this season.”
On the track, Gallander’s events are a test of speed and endurance, both of which she has shown off the track, as well.
“It is definitely a hard race,” she said of the quarter-mile. “It takes a lot of hard work. It puts me through the test and lets me push myself. It really pays off in the meets when you see your times. It reaffirms the personal work that I have put into this, as well.”
Gallander encourages anyone going through a challenging time to never give up and always have faith.
“You have to have faith in yourself, and I had an amazing support system of friends, family and coaches to help me,” she said. “Everyone was great helping me get through this. There were definitely times where I doubted myself. I believed it all happened for a reason, and it definitely made me a better person. It helped me build a passion for helping people.”
Head Girls Track Coach Gretchen Peterson said that Gallander is the type of person we can all learn from.
“Rachel is an amazing person,” Peterson said. “It takes a special amount of grace to come off of back-to-back State Championships and be faced with an injury that prevents you from doing what you’ve proven you’re the best at. Not once did I see her pout, complain or ask, ‘Why me?’ She was a leader for us in a way I have never seen a young person be. It is truly remarkable and I am so proud of her. To come back and run her senior year proves that good guys don’t finish last. She is an amazing athlete and person, overall. She is a great example for all young kids and us, too.”