In his junior year of high school, Kevin Quadrozzi was the fastest cross-country runner in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. There were quite a few colleges and universities interested in him. He was in talks with the coach at the University of Massachusetts. His future was bright.
This self-described injury-prone athlete developed a strange pain in his leg. He had a string of stress fractures in the past, but this felt different. After a few treatments from a physical therapist, he realized the pain wasn’t going away.
His sports orthopedist ordered an MRI of his leg and noticed a spot that concerned him. Three days later, Kevin had a bone scan. “They told me it was a tumor. When they showed me where it was on my tibia, it looked like an over-sized jelly bean,” he explained, “That same day, my parents told my sisters and I that they were getting a divorce. We didn’t see it coming. It was a tough time for me. I was scared.”
After undergoing a second bone scan, it became evident that the tumor was benign. “It showed the tumor was disintegrating, which lead to another problem because it formed a hole. The outside of my tibia was very thin like the crust of an eggshell,” he recalled.
His doctors were nervous and thought he might need surgery right away. Kevin was nervous that he might miss his upcoming cross-country races and blow his chances at being recruited by colleges.
The doctors understood and gave him two options. He could postpone his surgery until after his cross-country season as long as he cut his weekly mileage in half. They warned him that he could break his leg at any time. Or he could have the surgery that summer and miss his cross-country season.
Like any red-blooded runner, he opted to avoid the surgery. He reduced his running mileage from 60 to 30 miles a week. He biked and even competed in some road races. And he swam. He did whatever he could to maintain his fitness and baby his leg.
His patience paid off. “I ended up being second in the county going into the championship meets,” he explained, “Then, I ran a race with two of my rivals and I had the worst finish of my high school career. I placed seventh and passed right out. I ended up going to the emergency room and they diagnosed me with mono. The same week one of my best friends died suddenly.”
Since he wouldn’t be able to compete in those final championship events, he thought it would be the perfect time to get that surgery he needed. His doctors did not concur. He couldn’t have the surgery until his blood work returned to normal. He had blood tests twice a week for five weeks before he was cleared to have the operation.
Since Kevin’s condition was so rare, his doctor had never performed this kind of surgery before. He was given the option of filling the hole with artificial bone or his own bone, which would heal faster, but would be more painful. Kevin wanted the quicker recovery.
The next question was where would they harvest the bone on Kevin’s body that was big enough to fill the hole? He went under anesthesia not knowing whether it would be from his hip or his knee. The surgery went smoothly. “When I woke up, I saw the marks on my hip where they planned to cut, but they opted to chisel off a piece on the outside of my knee. I was glad because those marks looked big,” he said. Kevin spent the next three days in the hospital.
Then he spent the next two months on crutches with a DIY (do-it-yourself) rehab program that was more fitting for an Ironman in training. “I probably did a little more than I should have,” he recalled with a laugh, “I biked 400-500 miles a week on the trainer. That was about all I could do. I’d pop a movie in after school and bike for a couple of hours.”
Kevin was definitely ready for his spring track season. He finished high school with a few PRs under his belt, including a 4:32 mile. He went to the University of Massachusetts, after all. “I didn’t even tell my coach about the tumor until my sophomore year,” he admitted. He had a couple of nagging injuries in college, but managed to bring his mile time down to 4:14 and his 5K time down to 15:00. He placed 32nd at the U.S. Men’s 5K Championship, the national road championship, in his senior year.
Now that he has graduated, he plans to get his MBA in Sports Management from Florida Atlantic University. He’s eligible for the school’s cross-country team and club track team. “Once I’m done competing in the mile, I want to start doing marathons. My goal is to do Ironman races and qualify for Kona some day. That’s what I’d really like to do.” He’s come this far. It’s not that hard to picture him running through the lava fields of Hawaii next.
NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.