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Senior distance runner returns from major injury to gain honors with her teammates
Shown here at a track and field event in 2006, Suzie Strickler recently earned a prestigious NCAA post-graduate scholarship, along with two teammates.
When senior Suzie Strickler traveled to the Dominican Republic with a group of Seattle Pacific University classmates in summer 2008, she had planned on lots of activities: a day camp, Bible camp, teaching preschool and English classes, and building cross-cultural relationships.
Having to rebuild her left foot — and her Falcon distance running career — wasn’t part of the plan.
But that was Strickler’s situation after her foot got caught in the wheel of a motorbike on which she was a passenger. Her injury resulted in an infection that destroyed part of a tendon and a season of running with the Falcon cross country team.
After the accident, Strickler found medical attention at a mission base nearly an hour away, where doctors patched up her foot as best they could. It took approximately 30 stitches to do the job. She returned home a few days later, cutting her trip short by about three weeks.
The word from a specialist wasn’t pleasant: The foot was infected, and she needed immediate surgery.
“Apparently, the infection liquefied 25 percent of my Achilles,” says Strickler. “The
doctor said I had a lot of exotic bacteria in there.” She was left with a hole in her foot about the size of a silver dollar. It didn’t fully close until December 2008, some five months after the accident.
In January 2009, Strickler was able to get on an unweighted treadmill as part of her physical therapy — “which is really, really weird, running with 20 to 30 percent of your body weight,” she says, laughing.
Finally last March, during Spring Break, the moment arrived: She was ready to try running again, albeit very briefly.
“I ran five minutes; that was as long as I could go,” Strickler remembers. “That’s what it was for quite a while: five or six minutes.
“There were times when I definitely got very antsy and frustrated; I just wanted to run. Those were also the times when I was focusing on my situation and everything that had gone wrong.”
So Strickler changed her mindset.
“It was focusing on God and on Scriptures and praying,” she says. “It brought more peace and joy to do that.”
After sitting on the sidelines for nine months, Strickler was anxious to begin a delayed senior season on the cross country trails. She didn’t just want to run; she wanted to compete as a Falcon. So she delayed
graduation, saving one internship credit in order to join the team in Autumn Quarter 2009.
“I didn’t officially decide until Spring Quarter last year that I was going to try to do it,” said Strickler, an exercise science major from Richland, Washington. “I figured I might — it really depended on my foot and how it was doing.”
A recurring stress fracture in her right foot didn’t help matters early in the season. But when the postseason meets rolled around starting in late October, Strickler was ready to go. And the left foot held up just fine.
“This definitely has had its ups and downs,” Strickler says. “At some points, I was really discouraged about whether I was going to be able to come back and run, but my team was very supportive.”
Her team, in large part, is why Strickler kept running. And her courage and perseverance paid off for the team.
At the NCAA Division II championships on Nov. 21 in Evansville, Indiana, Strickler finished second for SPU, 46th overall, and helped the Falcon team earn a fourth-place national finish.
“It was quite amazing to see. We believed she would run one day — but weren’t sure when that one day would be,” Seattle Pacific coach Erika Botha Daligcon ’98 says. “We were all really surprised and really pleased with how much she progressed once the injury was able to close and stay closed.”
But Strickler wasn’t finished yet. She topped off what was likely her final appearance in an SPU uniform by winning the Elite 88 award for NCAA Division II women’s cross-country — which goes to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade point average who participates at finals for each of the NCAA’s 88 championships.
And then, in March 2010, she joined fellow senior distance runners Jane Larson and Jessica Pixler in receiving NCAA post-graduate scholarships. Given in recognition of the most outstanding athletic and academic achievement nationally, Seattle Pacific student-athletes have now won 28 of these awards, ranking the University near the top among NCAA Division II schools. For one school to receive three postgraduate scholarships in one year — and all in one sport — is rare in NCAA history.
Strickler is currently researching graduate schools and a possible career in occupational therapy, a career she hopes would allow her to “work with people and serve them in a meaningful way.”
“It is an incredible honor to recieve the scholarship,” says Strickler, adding how glad she was that Larson and Pixler also received it. “It has been an amazing privilege to run and share life with them these past four years.”
—By Mark Moschetti
—Photo by Andrew Towell
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