The late-night hours when Chastity Stewart settles into bed to try to sleep have been the toughest for her to deal with over the last month.
The North Texas junior knows she might have a stress fracture or a broken bone in her foot. So do the school’s trainers and coach Carl Sheffield.
Stewart has put off finding out exactly what the problem is and dealt with the pain of her decision to secure an opportunity that will come tonight when she competes in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA outdoor track championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.
The former Whitehouse standout will run in the second of three heats and enters the event ranked 21st in the field of 24 with a qualifying time of 57.74 seconds.
If Stewart can move up just a little and finish in the top 16, she will earn All-American honors and carve out a special place in program history.
“I think I have a shot,” Stewart said. “I didn’t think I would be here getting ready for nationals or run as fast as I did at conference or regionals. I want to surprise myself as well as everyone else and pull it out.”
The top eight finishers in each event are named first-team All-Americans, while the second eight are named to the second team.
That goal seemed like it was a long way off when Stewart first noticed something was wrong with her foot about a month ago. Stewart felt some pain and tried to roll her foot over a round object to massage the muscles and tissue.
When that didn’t alleviate the pain, Stewart went to UNT’s trainers who treated her for plantar fasciitis, the inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the toes.
That treatment hasn’t helped much, either, leaving Stewart with no other option but to ignore the pain that is exacerbated by her specialty, the hurdle races, which cause stress on athletes’ feet.
Up to this point, UNT has simply tried to manage the injury. Stewart ices her foot regularly and works with UNT’s trainers to ensure she can continue to compete.
“She wouldn’t have been able to run if it had not been for treatment and rehab,” Sheffield said. “Every time she takes off it causes pain in her foot. After her race, she has to have someone help her off the track.
“That is where she has grown. Before she would say, ‘My foot hurts. I can’t run,’ and just stop. She has endured a lot.”
Sheffield has scaled back the amount of training Stewart has gone through in the weeks leading up to the national meet to try to make sure her condition doesn’t deteriorate.
“We are managing her ability to get to the next race,” Sheffield said. “If we overdo it in practice, she won’t be able to race. She will practice every other day and get four or five runs in.”
Stewart has paid the price with each trip down the track.
Projecting herself in the air to clear a hurdle is just as painful as landing after clearing one for Stewart, who has seen her determination pay off.
Stewart ran her qualifying time for the national meet during the NCAA West Preliminary meet on May 30, despite the injury.
“You can’t control what happens in life,” Stewart said. “You have to work through it. It is something I am battling through it to get to where I want to be.”
Sheffield credits Stewart’s success largely to a deep-seeded determination that has earned her a reputation as a tireless worker throughout her three years at UNT.
That attitude is one Sheffield wants to see Stewart instill in her teammates. All too often over the last few years, UNT’s athletes who have advanced to the national meet have ended their careers there in the final race of their senior seasons.
Stewart will be back next fall and expects to be fully healthy by then.
Sheffield’s hope is that Stewart will have quite the story to share when UNT’s athletes gather to prepare for the indoor campaign, one of how she overcame a serious foot injury to become an All-American.
“I’m excited,” Stewart said. “The hard part is kind of over. I worked so hard to get here. I can have fun, know that it all worked out in the end and go out there and do my best.”
Sheffield believes Stewart’s best has brought her goal of becoming an All-American within reach.
“It’s the love to compete and win,” Sheffield said of what has kept Stewart going. “Chastity runs because she loves to win. I told her it will hurt like hell, but she can be an All-American.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.