In October 2009, redshirt sophomore runner Michelle Duffy dislocated her kneecap while working on hurdling drills during practice, tearing cartilage and her patella tendon.
“They told me I would never run track again”, Duffy said of her doctors’ prognoses.
The injury has threatened the careers of NFL running backs Carnell Williams and Correll Buckhalter, and the lifelong track star’s young college career hung in the balance.
Duffy underwent major knee surgery and went through grueling daily physical therapy sessions to rebuild muscle and re-learn how to walk.
“I was in the best shape of my life coming in and I was ready for a good season,” Duffy said. “I wasn’t necessarily depressed about it but I was really emotional. I took it really hard.”
Duffy discovered her talent in the sixth grade, when she ran a 5:40 mile in gym class. Upon joining the track team in eighth grade, she honed her skills in the 1,000 and 1,500-meter races.
As a high school freshman, she ran a 5:17 mile, the seventh-best time among the nation’s freshmen. With the success came all-conference awards, all-county awards, and even selection to the USA First Team. Eventually, her accolades earned her a scholarship to St. John’s, where she could earn an education in exchange for continued success on the track.
Her injuries, however, would keep her off the track for nine months, and prevent her from competing with the Red Storm for even longer.
“I was unable to bend my knee for six weeks and the doctor would take my knee and bend it for me, which was so painful” said the 20-year-old.
As her rehab progressed, Duffy began taking the necessary steps to rejoining the Red Storm. She began running in five-minute intervals with knee pain that she said still affects her today, increasing the intervals over time. By January 2011, Duffy was cleared to return to the team for the first time in nearly a year and a half.
In her first race after her career was nearly derailed, Michelle Duffy defied the odds and finished second in a group of 12 runners, losing only to a teammate.
“My first race was extremely emotional,” said Duffy, who continued, “I was running in the 800 meter race and I wanted to run a 2:40 but I ended up running a 2:20.”
To prevent further injury, Duffy plans on taking some time off after the spring season ends, noting that her injury came as the result of being overtired. When she resumes activity, she plans to manage her arthritic knee pain with biking and swimming, activities that are less strenuous on the knees than running while keeping her in shape for the upcoming fall season.
“We’ve got big goals as a team, but for me, I just hope to be in the top five on my team,” she said.