Rising Stanford University Track Star Turns Injury Into Opportunity

Cate running

Ever since Cate Peters was 7 years old, she wanted to go to Stanford University. And every time she opened her closet door, she was reminded of that dream.

“At my second-grade book fair, I brought home a Stanford poster. It has been a part of my room all of these years, through middle school and high school. It has always been my focus,” Cate says.

This year, the high school senior’s dream came true. Cate recently learned that she was accepted to Stanford University for fall 2023 and that she’s going to run track there.

Yet, the elite high school athlete from Danville, California, had to endure a lot to get where she is today. During a varsity soccer game her freshman year, Cate was hit by a hard slide tackle that cracked her shin guard and broke two bones in her lower leg. A skilled emergency room doctor near home aligned the two bones perfectly. From there, Cate turned to Christine Boyd, MD, at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health.

“We kept hearing Dr. Boyd’s name come up among parents on the sidelines, so I knew that if we ever needed orthopedic care, she would be the first person we would call,” says Cate’s mom, Christy.

At Cate’s first appointment with Dr. Boyd at Stanford Children’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center – Pleasanton, she was given a wheelchair to help her navigate her large Monte Vista High School campus. Her friends were wonderful in helping to push her around campus and support her. From there, it was a progression from wheelchair to crutches and from walking to running.

The Stanford Children’s sports medicine team focuses solely on young athletes. The team knows young bones and how to harness their healing abilities, without intervening with surgery too early.

“The developing skeleton has enormous healing and remodeling potential. Our care approach captures that resilience,” Dr. Boyd says.

Dr. Boyd maintained that cautiously optimistic attitude during Cate’s yearlong recovery, working with a team to help Cate not only get back to running, but run faster and better than before.

“Stanford Children’s understood what Cate needed as a student, but more importantly, they understood what she wanted to accomplish as an athlete,” Christy says.

Cate’s father, Tim, agrees: “Her doctors and physical therapists didn’t just do what was sufficient to get her moving; they knew she wanted to get stronger and better and compete at a high level.”

Running exercises during physical therapy inspire Cate to run track

Because Cate’s injury was so severe, when she first started physical therapy (PT), she hesitated to put weight on her foot, which was expected. Her physical therapist, Dorothy Fung, PT, DPT, helped her build strength and confidence.

“They never told me that I couldn’t come back from my injury,” Cate says. “They were always telling me what I could do, not what I couldn’t do.”

Fung designed a recovery program that would allow for success while pushing Cate’s boundaries of what her leg was capable of handling.

Cate on crutches

“We built up from the wheelchair to the boot, from two crutches to one, then from walking to running. We used our antigravity treadmill to help her safely add weight to her leg,” Fung says. “Cate was up for it. She’s so motivated and competitive. And she wanted to get back to sport.”

The antigravity treadmill controls the percentage of body weight that athletes put on their leg, allowing for slow, intricate improvements. It has a live video with three cameras that show the runner’s body in motion at different angles, helping PTs suggest small changes to improve body mechanics. It also lets athletes get a jump on endurance training while protecting the injury from bearing too much weight.

“In physical therapy at Stanford Children’s, Cate learned detailed and specific ways that your body moves when you run,” Tim says. “Because of her doctors and her PTs, she rebuilt every muscle in her injured leg, and balanced it with her other leg. All those things made her a better, stronger, and faster runner.”

Cate will be the first person in her family to play a college sport, and at a D1 school no less. But her mom ran track in high school, and her dad enjoys running 5K races today. So deciding to trade in a lifetime of playing soccer to focus on track wasn’t a completely foreign thought.

“In the fall, after a long recovery, I returned to soccer. I wanted to prove that I could overcome the obstacle and that I could compete at the highest level,” Cate says. “Yet all that focus on running in physical therapy made me realize how much I loved running. It gives me more joy than soccer.”

The pandemic forced Cate to choose one sport, since the seasons overlapped. She chose track.

Fung and the others on Cate’s physical therapy team worked with her high school coaches on her training routine. Cate’s dedication to healing and the team’s caring support paid off.

She broke the school record in the 400 meter her sophomore year, her first season after the injury. The next year, as a junior, she broke her own school record in the 400 meter, as well as the 100, 200, and 800 meter school records. She was also the East Bay Athletic League champion in all four events—the first athlete, male or female, in the league to do so, ever.

“The Stanford coach appreciated that I could run a 100, then turn around and run a 400 or 800,” Cate adds.  

Comprehensive sports medicine care

The Stanford Children’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center brings together doctors, physical therapists, and athletic trainers to collaborate on every patient’s care.

“We work together as a team, and we have all of the tools and resources that we need to help competitive young athletes reach their full potential after injury,” Dr. Boyd says.

Cate also saw Emily Kraus, MD, director of the Female Athlete Program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, for nutritional counseling. The Female Athlete Program brings together sports medicine physicians, adolescent medicine physicians, physical therapists, and athletic trainers to help female athletes keep their bones strong and their nutrition balanced.

Patient and doctor on the same track

Cate sees all the instruction she received on running as a silver lining of her injury. She appreciates how the care she received at Stanford Children’s led her to choose track and helped her stay strong despite challenges.

In a special coincidence, Dr. Boyd also ran track at Stanford University, and that inspired Cate. Additionally, Dr. Boyd grew up in the Pleasanton area and was a part of the same high school track league as Cate is today.

Cate's signing day at Stanford University

“It’s definitely special to me that we followed the same path,” says Dr. Boyd. “Enduring an extreme injury that fractured her tibia and fibula says a lot about Cate. She’s mentally strong and brave to come back from that.”

Dr. Boyd describes Cate as driven, very competitive, mature, and composed. The two share these traits, which are often present in elite athletes.

“Dr. Boyd truly understood what Cate was trying to balance—becoming a D1 athlete playing for Stanford University while maintaining top grades—because she did the same,” Christy Peters says. “The similarities are kind of eerie. They just reaffirm that we got care in the right place.”


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