Taylor Grove has barked back in a big way this spring. Her latest successes require some context. A 5-foot-3 junior, the Billings, Mont., native found herself in the home of a stranger after being bloodied, scraped and bruised back in the middle of last June. The injuries were the result of a collision with a dog that Grove described as a golden retriever. Inside the house, one of the dog owners helped tend to Grove’s wounds.
As quickly as she could, Grove scurried out the door and continued on a planned run on a familiar route in her hometown. She estimates that she galloped three more miles before calling it a day. It’s safe to say Grove had never experienced a run quite like this one.
“There was this family out playing with their dog in their yard,” Grove said. “It started running after me and I just kept going assuming they would go and get it. It ended up in front of me and we collided and I fell, I guess pretty hard. I didn’t think about it at first. I thought I would be fine, but I got up the next morning and my back and shoulders were pretty sore and my knees were bothering me going up and down stairs.”
Little did Grove know then about the physical struggles that would persist due to the freak accident. Such frustrations have given way to joy and triumph over recent weeks. Grove has proven stronger than ever while in the midst of a breakthrough outdoor track season. She has punched her ticket to nationals for the second year in a row and even surprised herself by winning a GPAC title at last week’s conference championships in Sioux City, Iowa.
Grove emerged from the GPAC meet as the program’s most unlikely of champions. Based on seeds entering the meet, Grove was not even projected for a top-eight finish required to earn All-GPAC honors.
Did she really think should could actually win the 10,000 meter race? “No,” Grove said with a laugh. “Looking at my times going in, my PR was like a 40:23 that I ran last year. There were a couple girls with like 39:20s and those were faster than I had ever run a 10k. I thought if I got up and ran with some of these girls maybe I could get fourth, maybe third.”
Such expectations seemed reasonable in the days leading up to the GPAC championships. Grove had been building confidence and momentum on the heels of her half marathon performance at the Drake Relays on April 22. She had come a long ways from those days back in the fall when she felt defeated, wondering if her body would ever respond in the manner it had before her accident.
Head coach Matt Beisel provided comfort through prayer and encouragement on occasions when tears welled up in Grove’s eyes as she dealt with her struggles. There was no magic potion that could cure her ails and no timetable for her return could be pinned down.
“Confidence-wise, it really shook her,” Beisel said. “There were so many times this fall after she’d go for a run and I’d ask her, ‘How was it?’ You could see the tears in her eyes. She was worried that she was never going to be able to run normally again. I would sit there next to her in the hallway and she would have tears. I would just tell her that I wished I could wave a magic wand and fix her, but I can’t. I told her that I believed in her and that I was praying for her.”
At one point, Grove had hoped she could be ready to run in the GPAC cross country championships in early November. It didn’t work out. Her next hope was to compete in the half marathon hosted by Midland in December. She still wasn’t ready. At long last, Grove made her way back to competition for indoor track and turned in a seventh-place GPAC finish in the 5,000 meters.
It had been a long time coming for Grove, who saw physical therapy specialists in both Montana and in Lincoln while also working closely with Concordia’s athletic training staff. What parts of her body bothered her most? Actually, a better question to ask: which parts of her body did not hurt?
“I wanted the help and I was doing all these exercises but my hips were really hurting a lot,” Grove said. “My chiropractor recommended a physical therapist that I went to that does this dry needling that improved the tightness of my hips. It was really nice because it hurt just to sit or stand. I had to get the right muscles for running working again. I also worked with Randy (Baack) and Stacy (Dahlkoetter) on loosening up my hamstrings a little bit. It’s kind of hard to look back and think about it.”
Progression was gradual. Five weeks of light running preceded Grove’s first rigorous workout that occurred late in the fall. Pain rushed back to her hips after winding around the tight turns typical of indoor tracks during winter competition. By March, Grove still didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of hammering out a half marathon.
She was running out of time to qualify for nationals, but by the middle of April she felt she was ready. She pitched Beisel on the idea of running the half marathon at the Drake Relays. He agreed that the time was right. Ultimately, she got the mark she needed. She didn’t stop there. She followed it up by winning the GPAC 10k title that few expected, not even Grove.
Admitted Grove, “It was cool. I was very surprised.” Beisel had other thoughts. Said Beisel, “Secretly, I thought she could win. I just wasn’t going to say anything to her … I’m still riding a high off of it.”
Determination over time has helped Grove reap the rewards. Now she’s again training for the marathon at the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships (May 24-26) with sights set on finishing a race that she dropped out of last year due to sultry and sticky conditions in Gulf Shores, Ala. She and Beisel are taking steps to be more prepared for the humidity this time around.
As a competitive and driven individual, Grove talks like someone with a lot on the line at this year’s national championships. Beisel has stated what he believes is possible, but we’ll just keep that a secret for now. This is the race she’s been working towards. Said Grove, “I missed the training that I was doing for the half marathon. Not having that goal there anymore (of reaching nationals in the marathon) was tough. It was a goal I felt really passionate about. It has a lot of personal meaning to me.”
Whatever the outcome, Grove has already proven she’ll get back up when knocked down, literally and figuratively.