Penn cross-country runner competes despite nagging pain

MISHAWAKA, Ind. (WNDU) - This weekend, dozens of cross-country runners across our area will be competing in regionals.

For one Penn athlete, she will be competing through her new normal: nagging pain.

“I used to tell myself I would never be a runner, but my brother was a runner, so I started doing what he does because I look up to him, so, yeah, about sixth grade,” Penn High School cross-country runner Nicole Marshall said.

For years, she loved to run, so it was a no-brainer that she would continue to run in high school.

But as she prepared to begin her high school career, everything changed.

“I found some weird pain behind my left knee,” Marshall said. “So, I went to the trainers and they diagnosed it as hamstring tendinosis.”

Treatment didn’t alleviate the pain, so Nicole spent her entire freshman season in and out of doctors’ offices before ultimately seeing a specialist in Chicago and being diagnosed with neurofibroma, a benign nerve tumor.

“I just don’t refer to it as a tumor because people are like, ‘Oh, my goodness, a tumor!’” Marshall said.

Now the question became, would she be able to run again?

“Where do I go from here?" Marshall asked. “A part of me running for a majority of my life kind of seemed to fall, because the doctor would just look at me like, ‘I just don’t know what to do.’”

Nicole began working closely with her cross-country coach Michael Clements to develop a training regimen.

“It was definitely a lot of trial by error,” Clements said. “I’ve come to practice a lot of times and been like, ‘Well, I’ve never done this with an athlete before Nicole, but we’re going to try it and see if this works.’ And finally, I think, we’ve got the formula right this year.”

Clements says that, on average, varsity cross-country runners run anywhere between 30-40 miles a week. But for Nicole, she can usually only do 12 miles a week.

This season is the first cross-country season Nicole has been able to fully participate in and will be helping the Kingsmen through the postseason.

“She’s been doing really well for us,” Clements said. “She’s a supremely just naturally gifted athlete.”

As the benign neurofibroma continues to slowly grow, she’s unsure if she’ll ever have it removed.

“It’s kind of like what they say, a ticking bomb, when you try to take apart a bomb,” Marshall said. “They don’t know which nerve might paralyze me down there or which nerve will be a part of the neurofibroma that they just take off. “

Nicole doesn’t like to look at it as something holding her back, rather as something that pushes her forward.

“God put it in my life for a reason, so I’m going to use it to my ability,” Marshall said. “It’s not something to boast about. It’s not something to be like, ‘Oh, I have a pity injury.’ It’s just there, and I’m going to push on through it and adapt to it and still reach my potential.”

Nicole plans to continue running cross-country and track during her junior and senior years at Penn.

When it comes to college, right now she says she's focused on her academics.