LaRocque Back Leading the PackFriday, July 17 2009 - Bradley LaRocque
As a freshman in 2007, Brad LaRocque stormed onto the collegiate cross country scene, finishing the season as Eastern's number one runner with a 15th place finish at the OVC Championships.
A four-time state qualifier for Sandburg High School, the talented freshman had four top 30 finishes in his first cross country season, and in the spring qualified for the USA Junior National Track Championships in the 10,000 meter.
However, LaRocque never had the opportunity to compete in the prestigious event. Two weeks before the 2008 OVC Outdoor Track Championships, he felt tightness in his groin that persistently worsened.
"It finally got to the point where it felt like someone was shoving needles in my groin, stabbing me," LaRocque said. "I was popping 1000 mg of Advil to get me through a workout and the conference 10,000 meter."
LaRocque fought through the pain and finished fourth in the 10,000 meter at the OVC Championships with a time of 32:59.98.
However, he had been dealing with the stabbing pain since the cross country season, and began to address the issue over the summer of 2008, when it was determined he had a pelvic stress fracture.
Although the injury only took three months to heal, LaRocque red-shirted the 2008 cross country and 2009 track seasons, opting to focus on strengthening his back and hips to ensure the injury would not come back.
"It's a very hard injury to truly figure out because there are so many muscles and tendons and nerves," he said. "With the Help of Eastern doctors and training staff including Dr. Schuster, they helped me make this comeback a success. They believed in me and tossed whatever they had and more at this injury to get me back going."
Due to the injury, LaRocque was forced to miss a full year of competition. Running is where he claims to feel most comfortable, and being away from his teammates, both in competition and for daily runs, was the hardest part of his recovery. He admitted it was most difficult when he was at home, and wasn't able to be with his teammates or see them compete.
"It was hard sitting and watching those 10,000 meters and 5,000 meters go off but on the other hand it was great because I got to cheer on my teammates," he said. "When the 10,000 meter went off this year for outdoor track conference, it hit me hard because I wanted to go one-two with Brad Butler, one of our captains that has lead me down the right path for success. When he won it was an amazing feeling and it gave me more motivation to repeat what he did."
Despite his determination, LaRocque admits there were some doubts about making a comeback. There were a few doctors who advised him to stop running; however, LaRocque used their opinion as motivation to make a comeback. With support from his doctors, family and teammates, he managed to continue fighting.
"When I had those bad nights, I thought, 'why quit when I have all these people behind me?'" he said. "Why quit something that I love? I always knew one day I would put on that EIU jersey and fight."
LaRocque began rehab work a few months ago, completing a walk/run routine and continuing with his strengthening exercises, as well as jogging in the pool for 40 minutes a day. In late April, he began running again.
"It was slow, but it didn't matter I was out there running and it was the best feeling in the world," he said. "This summer my training has been great, slow but it has started to pick up."
Now, two and a half months later, LaRocque is back to running 70 miles a week, with plans to bump it up to 90 miles before cutting back for the start of the season. Additionally, he has been completing short-distance speed workouts to get his legs used to moving at a faster rate after being out for so long.
With the season fast approaching, LaRocque is once again back where he belongs: leading the pack. At the July 4 Panther Prowl, he finished second overall and first amongst current Eastern runners with a time of 56:02 over the ten mile course. According to head cross country coach Geoff Masanet, LaRocque has emerged this summer as a team leader.
"Brad is 100 percent healthy, ready and tough," Masanet said. "We will progress him cautiously this fall. He should be ready to be one of our team leaders and a real threat for top 10 honors at the OVC. He bleeds EIU and is so excited to be back healthy right now."
For LaRocque, returning to competition means being reunited with his teammates in battle.
"The one thing I am looking forward to is rolling with my guys together and mowing everybody down, and doing whatever it takes to get that victory," he said.
LaRocque is set to take the final step in his long journey when he puts on the Eastern jersey once again in the Panther's opening meet of the season Sept. 4 in Nashville. But when he gets back on the course, there's no doubt LaRocque will remember all those who helped him through his recovery.
"I wouldn't have been able to come back without my Dad, who has put so much effort into this comeback, always believing in me that I will keep fighting. He's why I fight today. The EIU trainers and doctors who did everything and a lot more to get me going again and my teammates and coaches because they never stopped believing in me and always kept my spirits up when I was down. I have a lot of work to do, I have a long way to go still but in the end it will be worth it!"
Jeff Jurinek can be reached at 581-7942 or DENsportsdesk@gmail.com