Cait Chock provides RunBlogRun stories that always inspire, from views that many of us have not considered. Such is the case of Selina Sekulic, whose journey through running, injuries and the self knowledge has lead her to an amazing career. We wish Selina Sekulic endless injury free miles and thank her for sharing her story with Cait Chock. And I look forward to Cait’s next stories!
Talent and Drive is Never Lost: Selina Sekulic’s 13 year journey back to running and racing healthy
By: Cait Chock
Stepping onto the starting line of the 3000 meter steeplechase event at the 2004 World Junior Championships in Grosseto, Italy, Selina Sekulic was excited. Obviously for the race immediately at hand, here she was traveling as a select member of Team USA, representing her country, and now lined up next to the best juniors in the world. She was excited for all of this; but, she was more excited at the prospect of what was to come…this was only the beginning.
“To this day, Junior Worlds was one of the most fulfilling achievements of my life,” shares Sekulic. “My race performance was sub par, which I still attribute to inexperience…Nevertheless, the entire endeavor elevated me to a level that I could never reach again.”
Sekulic finished sixth in her heat, an excellent showing being that it was her first International race, not to mention her first outdoor track season ever. She was relatively new to the sport as a whole, but was already greeted with so much success. She had won the USATF Junior National Champs for the event, setting the Wake Forest school record enroute, in punching her ticket to Grosseto. She was looking past Grosseto, she was just on the brink of her running career.
She could have never predicted that it would be her first and last time racing at an event of that level. “Grosseto was the last time I ever raced on a track. It took a long time for me to accept that.”
Racing for Wake Forest, Sekulic came back to the States for her first season of cross country, where she earned All-American status. That’s when the roof fell in. “Following that, I just spiraled into consecutive injuries that persisted until the end of my college career.”
Four years of college saw Sekulic with every lower leg injury imaginable, “Since my sophomore year of high school, I’ve experienced a multitude of lower extremity soft tissue and osseous injuries. In my teens and early 20’s, every set back seemed earth shattering.”
With the same vigor she took to her rehabilitation and cross training, she delved into learning everything she could about her particular injury of the moment. She still believed she would be one of the best, “I had a strong ego. I never doubted my ability. I always believed I could once again reach the top echelon of distance running. I was optimistic. The fire in my gut never burnt out.”
She actually enjoyed her time spent in the gym and lifting, she knew it was making her stronger and expedited each rebound back from an injury…until the next one. Four years of constant injuries left her more versed in the science than most professional sports trainers. She understood both in context and applied experience.
Naturally she decided to make this her career, “There was nothing else on the planet that I knew more about than foot and ankle injuries. Truthfully, there wasn’t another medical specialty that I was interested in.” Upon graduating from Wake Forest, in 2007 Sekulic was accepted into the New York College of Podiatric Medicine.
Her school was in East Harlem and the change of atmosphere and venue worked wonders for her outlook on running and in life. “The energy that I derived from NYC was exactly what I needed after a depressing three years at Wake Forest. My four years spent in NYC were comprised of studying and working out.” Every night she would head out to run in Central Park, the constant change of seasons providing the perfect backdrop to an ambiance of magic. There was magic, Sekulic was running pain free and falling in love with every step. On occasion she would even travel the five hours back and forth via the Metro North just to get a run in on the paths in Rockefeller State Park.
With distance between herself and the salt in the wound style closeness of college athletics, an arena she had dreamed to be a part of but her body refused to comply, podiatry was her haven.
Incidentally, as she had learned so much about injuries, both rehabilitation and prevention, she finally got to a point where she could get her body to run injury-free for prolonged stretches of time. Of course another factor being that she wasn’t doing the intense interval sessions on the track or grueling workouts that come with training. She was running for the joy it gave her and the stress release, but the point was she COULD run.
The longer she went being healthy, the more that competitive runner’s appetite awoke. She decided to jump into the North Face Bear Mountain Trail Marathon race; she literally jumped into it off of 35 miles per week and her longest distance run prior being just 10 miles. She didn’t just survive, she won the race, and she was addicted. “This reassured me that I still hadn’t reached the endpoint of my potential.”
The marathon had instilled in her the hope, and affirmation, that she was born to be a runner and her talent and work ethic would never be lost, despite the multitude of injuries.
Passion for the sport reignited, and her passion for learning the complexities of the foot and helping other athletes growing stronger, Sekulic graduated podiatry school in 2011 and took up a three year residency program in Salt Lake City. Her studies delved into clinical and surgical training, with the long term goal of opening her own private practice one day that would be a one-stop-shop for patients. “With regards to children and high caliber athletes, I am very conservative with surgical intervention. I make sure that every conservative treatment option has been exhausted prior to surgery. In the instance that surgery is warranted, my patients are always on the safest fast track to returning to their sport.”
But she wasn’t there yet, so after her residency Sekulic took a one-year Fellowship at the Salt Lake Orthopedic Clinic. The confidence and experience gained there was invaluable. After four years in Utah Sekulic’s adventurous spirit craved a change of scenery. She signed onto a two-year contract with Animas Foot and Ankle and packed her bags for Farmington, New Mexico where she’s been living, “the best 18 months of [her] life.”
With Gallup, Moab, and Durango all within her work scope, she’s wracked up an insane amount of miles on her car just in commute; but with each destination also comes near infinite miles of trails to run and mountain bike on.
The last 18 months have been insurmountable in propelling her career forward just as much as they have truly jump-started her running career again. Since college, Sekulic focused on the benchmark of two years. If she could be healthy for two years, she could achieve anything she wanted. “Well, I hit two years of injury free running this past summer, and I wasn’t satisfied. I realized that the only way I would ever reach my potential is if I start racing…and doing workouts.”
Sekulic started integrating speedwork into her routine, but it wasn’t your typical marathon training style. She hit some half-marathons to use as speed training, but her workouts were super short intervals averaging 150 meters, and she stuck in the 25-30 mile per week range. But she was injury-free, progressing, and most importantly, “really enjoying the training.”
She took to the Bryce Canyon Half Marathon in June 2016 as her first ‘official’ race back, clocking in at 80 minutes. Given the circumstances she was more than pleased with the effort. She was also hungry for more. She signed up for more races, each at altitude, all on trail and dirt, and each time was in the top three. Finally, she capped 2016 off with a tenth place overall finish at the Moab Trail Marathon/US Trail Marathon Championships.
Talent and work ethic never fade.
Eventually Sekulic’s eyes settled on the 2017 USATF Cross Country Championships in Bend, OR. She knew she would have to increase her volume and workouts for this, so with nine weeks out she did just that. Come race day, she knew she was in the best shape of her life, a better shape than her eventual 32nd finish would reflect. “I didn’t race as well as I expected, but it was a decent rust buster.” But that’s racing on any level, on any given day you never quite know how the legs will show up.
It’s a beautiful sight to see Sekulic back in full flight back on the track, a New Mexico sunset in the distance. Her form slicing through the orange and reds, circuit after circuit, until eventually the colors bleed to violets, blues, and then darkness.
Murphy’s Law has an affinity for irony, or it could be a testament that at the end of the day the brutal reality is every runner is only one mile away from an injury, but this month sees Sekulic nursing an acute Achilles injury and chronic calf issue. But she’s smart and patient, and taking it day by day until the injuries are 100% healed. “The beauty of my running pursuits is that I’m not on a strict timeline to get back into peak form.”
What she does have planned is a trail race this summer in the Wasatch, but her real sights are locked on breaking her mile PR. “I love doing speedwork and strength training in the gym. Genetically, I’m a power athlete. Somehow, I’ve had success in distance running.”
This summer will also mark another epic achievement for the harrier; she will be moving back to Salt Lake City to open that private practice of her dreams: Final Kick Ankle and Foot Clinic. “At the end of the day, I just want athletes of all levels to walk out of my clinic optimistic that they can get back to their sport, and that the sky is their limit.”
Sekulic’s brand of personal and internal knowledge of the science of podiatry is something no school can teach. How she is able to connect with and treat athletes, and non-athletes alike, is something truly unique. She is helping other athletes realize their own potential.
Sekulic’s new life in medicine has also garnered her a renewed sense of appreciation for her own capabilities as a runner. After an intensive foot surgery back when she was in residency, “I recall waking up a couple days after surgery and realizing how lucky I was to get to be me every day. It was a level of maturity and self-respect that necessitated a decade of resilience and confidence to obtain.”
Thirteen years later and Sekulic is excited. Not just for an immediate race at hand, but because she is just on the brink of her running career. It may have been put on pause much longer than she ever could have imagined, but for damn sure it’s set to play now.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer, artist, and comedian, you can see more of her work on her website, Instagram @caitchock, and Twitter @caitlinchock.
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