Sheila Reid's injuries shatter her Rio Olympic hopes

Middle distance runner Sheila Reid never imagined a right calf strain would leave her unable to race at the Rio Olympics.

'I look forward to competing when my body's actually working for me,' says Canadian runner

Canadian middle distance runner Sheila Reid, seen here in happier times, had her hopes of racing at the Rio Summer Games dashed by injuries. A strained right calf led to bursitis in the 2012 Olympian’s knee and later a stress fracture in her tibia. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press/File)

By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports

Sheila Reid gets into race position on the Hayward Field track for the women's 1,500 metres with tightness in her right calf from warmup still occupying her thoughts.

But, seconds later, as the gun sounds, any pain the Canadian feels is gone.

"You get the rush of adrenalin and you go," Reid recalls over the phone, two months after the 42nd annual Prefontaine Classic. "It's survival at that point."

She completed the race in Eugene, Oregon, running a season-best four minutes 3.96 seconds to finish ninth in a field of 12.

"I did have that feeling that my body wasn't doing everything it could for me," said Reid. "I had to force the right leg [when running] around curves. And it wasn't something that could be massaged out, at least not at the point of pain."

That Saturday afternoon in May is the last time Reid competed. In early July, she had to withdraw from the Edmonton event, which also served as the Olympic trials, meaning the native of Newmarket, Ont., would not be among the 313 Canadian athletes at the Rio Summer Games.

At 4:03.96, Reid had the fastest qualifying time of any Canadian in the 1,500 and had turned in three Olympic standard performances in the previous calendar year, including twice in May while running at less than 100 per cent.

After the Prefontaine Classic, Reid continued to work out "pretty intensely" until the day came when she couldn't put weight on her right leg and warm up properly. "Everything shut down on me."

Reid was later diagnosed with a calf strain, but her troubles didn't end there. The strain led to bursitis in her knee, and eventually doctors told the 2012 Olympian she had sustained a stress reaction in her tibia – a large bone in the lower front part of the leg that works with the fibula to stabilize the ankle – from the pulling of all the muscles.

"I had already reached the point where I had done more damage than there should have been," said Reid, who finished 28th in the 5,000 at the London Summer Games.

The Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic in Los Angeles on May 20 marked Reid's season-opening outdoor event and the first time she felt pain in her right leg.

I was just in this place where I felt so invincible.- Canadian middle distance runner Sheila Reid on ignoring warning signs of a serious injury

Reid crossed the finish line second among 44 runners in 4:05.74, but knew something was wrong with her leg.

"I was just in this place where I felt so invincible," she said, "I couldn't imagine this [injury] was something that was going to take me out [of action]."

When Reid's injury worsened to a point that she couldn't complete a workout, she took time off to rest and then received a cortisone injection followed by a platelet-rich plasma injection leading up to the Olympic trials. The latter involves the withdrawal of an athlete's blood, which is spun and concentrated in a centrifuge to separate the platelets before it is re-injected into the injured area to resolve pain through healing.

'Great stories'

Reid's new goal for the summer is to never get injured again.

"I just wish I addressed some of these issues earlier. When you're walking that [fine] line you're susceptible to anything," she sighed. "This is my job, and it's hard to depend on your physical body so much for your profession and happiness. But this is what I live for."

So much so, the love of the sport will probably trump her sadness of not being in Rio and Reid will watch the women's 1,500 on television.

"It'll be hard, for sure," she understated. "[But] I think there are some great stories that aren't mine that I would love to follow.

"I have not yet reached my prime and this is not my last shot [at the Olympics]. I look forward to competing at full tilt to see what I can do when my body's actually working for me, not against me."