Bell Thrives After 15-Month Absence

April 11, 2005

By Mary Anne Sunseri
Shannon Bell has been without her true love: cross country. Plagued by a severe leg injury, Bell was unable to compete in any of the eight races in the fall. But where some runners might lose faith, become increasingly frustrated or even quit, Bell persevered and surprised even herself when she placed second at her first race back.

"Fifteen months is a long time to not be competing, so I was really impressed with how she was able to keep her dedication and keep her eye on the end goal of getting better," senior teammate and older sister Robin Bell said. "A lot of people would have just gotten frustrated by having to go through all that."

But Bell was determined to not break down. Instead, she went through hours of physical therapy and deep tissue massages in addition to working up her strength by swimming instead of running.

Ironically, however, Bell, who joined cross country her junior year in high school, wasn't always so dedicated or even fond of running.

"Initially, I hated running," she said. "I loved volleyball, and running was punishment in volleyball. Junior year I started using it as a stress release and fell in love with it."

Her first year running cross country, she placed second in her home state of Washington. From there, she decided to focus her attention on running and applied to Santa Clara where Robin was already attending.

Her first year on the Santa Clara cross country team was explosive. She was the team's top finisher in five out of six races and finished 32nd at the NCAA Regionals in Portland ? the best finish ever for a Santa Clara runner. But despite her successes, near the end of the season, Bell began to experience pain while running.

The injury Bell received, known as I.T. (Iliotibial) Band Syndrome, is common among cross country runners. With this syndrome, the I.T. Band, which runs from the hip to the knee, tightens and snaps on the side of the knee, causing inflammation.

"It was hard to pinpoint the specific point on the side of my knee that hurt, but once I found it if I pushed on it the pain was excruciating," Bell said.

While she tried to ease back into her running after taking a few weeks off from practice, her injury resurfaced. However, she made it to regionals anyway and started seeing physical therapists. But, by the end of the summer, it seemed that she would be unable to run for her sophomore season.

"I kept running and it wasn't getting better," Bell said. "I would get a sharp, snapping pain in the outside of my knee every time I took a step. And then after running or walking, the pain would stay even when I was just sitting still or lying down."

Despite the fact that she couldn't run with the team for the season, Bell stayed optimistic.

"I know it was a huge blow to her and it hurt her so much," sophomore teammate Blossom Marimpietri said. "But she was so good for handling it so well. She still stayed positive around everyone else."

Bell, a combined sciences major interested in becoming a physical therapist, threw herself into her recovery. She went to physical therapists in Santa Clara as well as at home in Washington and even organized her own recovery plan. She started swimming and walking to work her way up to running longer distances. And while working hard on her routine, she also found the time to keep contributing to the team in other ways.

"Even during her injury she was always there to support us at practice whenever she could be available to help," Robin Bell said. "She came to every local match. She was our cheerleader."

Bell's hard-work ethic and optimism even impressed her Head Coach Tom Service.

"For Shannon, everything is looking on the good side and the glass is half full instead of half empty," Service said.

When asked about Bell's recovery, Service pointed out her approach to the cross training she had to go through. Athletes don't often prefer walking or swimming as a substitution for running or playing a sport, but Bell was able to make the cross training work so that she was ready to start running again.

"She embraced it," Service said. "She put herself in that place and got all the benefits from it. It helped her to come back a lot sooner."

As it turned out, Bell's organization paid off. After 15 months of hard work, she was able to come back and compete with the new track team. In her first 5000-meter match back on March 12th, she placed second out of 23 runners with a time of 18:11. In her second match last weekend, she placed third with a time of 17:51.

Bell's optimistic point of view is not only limited to her cross country activities. While keeping up with academics and friends, she is also a peer health educator who is determined to spread the word about eating disorders. She understands that they are prevalent in cross country and is working to educate people about the warning signs and how to help.

Bell is also very passionate about social justice, an issue that she has been interested in since high school. She joined Santa Clarans for Social Justice and even went to Atlanta in order to protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas) during the fall.

"I really do believe that every person can make a difference," Bell said. "Everyone should do what they can and follow their passions in order to make a difference in the world."

Even after the amazing feat of getting herself back into running, Bell tries to convince everyone that she is just a normal student, just like everyone else. She manages her schedule around her friends, running and academics.

"She loves chocolate, she loves water sports, she was awarded the Freshman Chemistry Award, she's healthy and outgoing and fun to be around, and she wants to make a difference," sophomore Sarah Scott, who ran with Bell on the team last year, said. "Anything she can do to make someone else's life easier or more happy, she'll do it in a heartbeat because that's just the kind of person she is."

Looking back, Bell sees her injury as a kind of blessing.

"One of the biggest things I have gotten out of my injury is I am a lot more in tune with my body and I can tell when it needs rest," she said. "I feel like, because of this injury, I am a lot more alert for preventing future injuries."

Bell and her teammates will race again on Saturday at Cal State Stanislaus for the Warrior Invitational. The track team has six races left before regionals.

Bell has had a remarkable year and is excited to get the chance to run for Santa Clara again. She has moved on past her injury to get back to the sport she loves.

"It was a bump in the road that she overcame," Scott said.