Distance Runner Charging Forward After Crawling Across Finish Line

Medha’s Stanford care team has helped her bounce back stronger after multiple injuries

Medha standing with crutches

The gun goes off. Distance runner Medha Gowda is on the line, ready to win and considered the top contender for California’s North Coast Section Championship. She takes one step and falls.

“I felt a pain from my Achilles to my calf, and I face-planted. Adrenaline got me back up, and I led the first two miles,” she says. “With 600 meters to go, I collapsed from unbearable pain.”

Instead of tapping out as 99.9% of us would do, Medha crawled the approximately half mile to the finish line. Her coach and her mother ran beside her. She asked them to not touch her for fear of getting a “DQ,” or disqualification.

“At the end, I tried to get up to jog. I didn’t want the memory of my final senior year race to be me crawling across the finish line,” she says.

Getting expert sports medicine care quickly at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health

The Monday after the weekend meet, Medha was at the Stanford Medicine Children’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center location in Pleasanton. There, she saw Arvind Balaji, MD, a pediatric sports medicine specialist.

Medha received medical care, psychological support, and physical therapy over the course of eight weeks to get her back to sport. This included Dr. Balaji getting down to the nitty-gritty of exactly which exercises she needed and at what intensity to help her heal safely.

“It’s a bit unique, but I pull up videos of my patients’ physical therapy sessions, and I point out how it should look and feel and where they can push or not,” Dr. Balaji says. “We take care of the highest level of young athletes here at Stanford Children’s—those who compete at the national and world level—so we want to get them back to sport but also make sure their injury won’t affect them long-term.”

Medha appreciated that Dr. Balaji understood how badly she wanted to get back out there, and he “set up an efficient way to get [her] back quickly and safely.” She has since seen Dr. Balaji for several other running-related injuries.

Medha also visited Stanford’s Motion Analysis and Sports Performance Laboratory, where a running analysis helped pinpoint changes she can make to reduce her risk of getting injured again.

Medha running in a race

At the lab, Medha ran on an instrumented treadmill that measures the force she inputs into the ground with each step, while special 3-D cameras recorded the motion of her joints.

The lab team found that Medha may benefit from increasing her cadence (taking more steps per minute) to reduce the impact force when her feet hit the ground as well as improve her performance.

“Gait retraining is difficult, so we like to look for the low-hanging fruit that is easy change but will make a real impact on a runner’s mechanics,” says Jeff Morgan, ATC, a biomechanist at the lab. “Getting an athlete like Medha to increase her cadence using a specially timed playlist should reduce her injury risk. We also recommended exercises to help her build her body up to handle the demands she is placing on it.”

Deborah Callahan, ATC, an athletic trainer at the lab, said that athletes like Medha are well-suited for the lab’s data-driven approach.

“Medha is very driven and had a lot of really great questions,” she says. “She trains smart, and now I think she can train even smarter.”

A shining high school track career

Medha holding an athletic award

Medha ran varsity cross-country and track at Dublin High School all four years. But she wasn’t always a runner. Prior to that, she played soccer.

“My soccer coaches called me ‘slow bug.’ They suggested I join cross-country the summer before my freshman year to become better conditioned. I found a passion for it,” she says.

Medha quit soccer and went out for track and cross-country, making the varsity team as a freshman. She went on to make school history by becoming the first female at Dublin High to ever win a league title at the cross-country championships. She also set a high school record for the three mile at 18:01 minutes on the Hayward course.

“Medha has a positive attitude, and she is very self-motivated. It’s that combination that makes her a successful student athlete,” says Charlie Lee, PT, DPT, CSCS, sports physical therapist at Stanford Children’s who helped Medha recover.

Medha, now 18, is running track and cross-country at Chabot Community College as a freshman. She hopes to someday transfer to a four-year college and continue her running career. She plans to take her experience and apply it to her goal of becoming a pediatric sports medicine doctor like Dr. Balaji.

“My success has not been from genetics and raw talent but from my own hard work. Every day I put in the work. That’s why each of my successes are so sweet for me,” she concludes.

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