The pain wouldn’t leave Fresno State sprinter Shanelle Stephens alone.
As a senior, this season is the first in years Stephens can say the pain in her legs is not a problem after three surgeries put rods in both legs and a screw in her right leg that was later removed.
It started in her legs her freshman year in high school but she said her response was to tape it up and keep running. Either she could push through it or she couldn’t. Over the next four years the cycle was tape, run, and ice.
When Stephens arrived at Fresno State she had the same injury but it felt worse. This time tape wasn’t an option.
“We finally went to the doctor and they told me it was stress fractures, which is far worse than shin splints,” Stephens said. “We thought it was shin splints in high school. They were stress fractures, so we couldn’t just tape it up. It was either have surgery or don’t compete for Fresno at all. Of course I decided to have the surgery.”
Doctors gave her only a 50-50 chance to ever compete again.
“I kind of zoned out after I heard that part,” Stephens said. “It was really big emotionally and physically, because physically I didn’t know if I’d be able to compete but emotionally I didn’t know what to do. It was my freshman year in college. I’m like, ‘someone just tell me what to do!’ I’m so used to my mom or someone telling me, ‘do this or that.’ Now it’s time for you to grow up and make your own decisions.”
After the surgery in Los Angeles, Stephens sat out her first year at Fresno State and was with trainers rehabbing twice a day.
“I was definitely going to do what I needed to do to come back,” Stephens said. “I wanted to compete. I love the sport. That was a no brainer.”
However, rehab was a painful process that caused Stephens to wonder if she could get back to competing at a Division I level.
“It had its moments at times,” Stephens said. “I thought I wasn’t going to get back because the pain was so intense. Having to try to bend your leg yourself, walking properly, everybody can just walk around but there’s actually a correct way to walk around.
“It’s like, ‘yeah, I’m back walking, but am I walking properly?’ Am I getting the knee up when I should? Is my leg bending correctly? Is the tenderness gone? They don’t want any pain. It was very difficult at times. Sometimes I didn’t think I was going to be able to push my way through it.”
By the end of her freshman season Stephens was jogging with her teammates. Despite all the pain Stephens went through, the hardest part might have been watching her teammates from the stands.
“It’s torture,” Stephens said. “I always want to go out and be there with my teammates. I feel like anything I can do, whether it is words of encouragement, just being there with my team and competing with them and scoring some points for them is always helpful. I always want to be a part of the team. “
In head coach Scott Winsor’s two decades of coaching experience, Stephens stands out.
“She’s one of the most remarkable young athletes I’ve ever been associated with,” Winsor said. “She’s a remarkable young lady. She has been through a lot physically during her career here at Fresno State. My attitude toward her is this is a girl that we can count on. No matter what, we can count on this girl to line up and give us everything she’s got. I know we can count on her to give us what she has. For a coach that’s invaluable. You have peace of mind when you have someone like that.”
Through all the adversity, Stephens believes she has learned some things about herself.
“It’s a learning experience,” Stephens said. “It definitely showed how dedicated I am to the sport and teammates. I don’t like to give up. It definitely teaches me that if I can get through the three surgeries and all that pain, I can get through anything. I can push myself through anything.”