After a solid spring competing in distance events for the Woodstock track team, Melehan was poised to do even more in her junior season of cross country season.
That’s when the unexpected happened.
Melehan suffered a stress fracture in her leg and missed 10 weeks of training in the offseason. She did her best to maintain her conditioning through biking and swimming during the period that she was not allowed to run. Still, even Melehan was questioning how well the cross country season would go for her.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect, to be honest,” she said. “Nobody really rebounds the way they want to coming off 10 weeks of not running. I was really trying not to put expectations and pressures on myself because I knew it wasn’t going to end up how I wanted it to, had I not gotten the stress fracture.”
The stress fracture, attributed to the additional pressure Melehan puts on a bone in her right leg, could have returned if she tried to come back too strong.
The season started slow, with Melehan finishing 10th — and fourth on the team — in her first race of the season. Through all of her sophomore season, she had only finished second to a teammate once.
But over the next few weeks, as the injury faded away, Melehan began to pull away.
At the end of September, she placed second in the Flrunners.com Invitational with a team-best time of 19 minutes, 13.6 seconds. Two weeks later, she placed second to Etowah’s Kingsley Green at the county championship.
By the time the Region 5AAAAAA championship was held Nov. 2, it was hard to tell that Melehan had ever suffered an injury. She raced to a second-place finish behind Walton’s Avery Bussjager and finished with a personal-best time of 18:49.53.
Advancing to the state meet, Melehan finished seventh — the best placement of any Cherokee County runner — with a time of 19:38.
For excelling through adversity and finding a way to improve upon a stellar sophomore year, Melehan is the 2013 Cherokee Tribune Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Knowing how much she overcame in order to get back in position to excel this fall, Melehan said the award means even more this time around.
“Coming into the season, usually you set preseason goals of what time you want to run and how you want to finish at state, but because of my injury, I didn’t really have those,” Melehan said. “I did a lot better than I expected. It was really nice.”
Melehan found out about the honor in a roundabout way after friends began congratulating her in the hallways at Woodstock. Athletic director Scott Krug had sent out a tweet announcing that Melehan was the runner of the year.
“I was kind of like, ‘Hey, nobody has told me about this yet,’ and my friends were saying, ‘Congrats,’ and I asked them, ‘For what?’” Melehan said. “It was kind of funny.”
A day later, the news had sunk in a little more and Melehan was all smiles.
She is trying not to dwell on the possibility of another injury, instead making an effort to learn from the experience.
“That was my first really serious (injury),” Melehan said. “I had a little hamstring thing last year, but that wasn’t anything serious. It more came at a bad time. (The stress fracture) was big. I learned a lot from it and I think that I will be smarter training this year.”
While Melehan still has one more high school season ahead of her, she feels she has already accomplished a lot.
As a freshman, she competed at state with the rest of the Lady Wolverines. She then went as an individual as a sophomore before leading her team to another state appearance this year. Add in two successful track seasons, and Melehan’s resume looks pretty good.
Looking forward, Melehan is focused on track in the spring before gearing up for her senior year cross country, in which she hopes to finish in the top five in the state. However, before any of those achievements happen, she will run a high-profile individual race. She is scheduled to run in the Foot Locker South Regional meet on Saturday.
Melehan said she still gets a sour feeling when she thinks about what the season could have been like had she never suffered the stress fracture, but she tries to use it as a motivation.
“It is what it is,” she said. “It turned out well for how it started.”