Sock’s Neylon running through illness

SOUTH CENTRE TWP. — Tears welled in Charlotte Neylon’s eyes when she saw her time. She couldn’t help it. There was a time this year when the Loyalsock senior never thought she’d see a 100-meter time under 13 seconds again.

So when she won the girls 100-meter championship at the Mountain Lion Classic in Altoona earlier this month, that was one thing. But to see the 12.65 second winning time, well that was enough to bring Neylon to tears.

Neylon hadn’t run a time that low since clocking a 12.62-second run to take second place at the 2017 District 4 Track and Field Championships. And when Neylon was diagnosed with mononucleosis in February, it was never certain she would get back to this point.

It’s been a frustrating spring for Neylon. Her mono diagnosis caused her to miss about a month of school. It also prevented her from continuing the work she had done through the winter on her running. When she finally returned to the track in late March, she finished the 100 in more than 14 seconds.

So on the evening of May 3, when she clocked the 12.65 to win her first invitational of the season. A good cry was necessary. She celebrated with her family all night, relishing in the work she had put in to get back to this point.

Neylon enters today’s District 4 Track and Field meet at Williamsport High School as the No. 2 seed in the 100 in Class AA. The only seeding time better than her 12.65 belongs to Loyalsock teammate Hailey Zurich (12.54).

“We all felt the excitement of that. We were so happy and relieved,” Loyalsock girls coach Nicole Reed said. “Mono took a break for a second. She had a great meet that day and there were tears of joy. I hope to have those again (Thursday) and Saturday.”

Neylon competed throughout the winter indoor season without a hitch. She finished third in both the 60 and 200 meters at separate indoor events at Susquehanna University. But by the time she was diagnosed with mono on Feb. 20, she was in a state of fatigue where she had about 30 minutes a day of usable energy. Otherwise, she spent time in bed sleeping.

Her teachers would send work home to try and help her keep up, but there just wasn’t much energy to do schoolwork. Neylon has since caught up and will graduate with her class later this spring.

But when she was cleared to return to the track in late March, she just wasn’t the same. She ran in a dual-meet against Lewisburg on March 26 and finished the 100 in 14.38 seconds. It was a frightening time for Neylon, who qualified for the state meet in the 100 each of the last two seasons.

She admits now she probably shouldn’t have bothered running at all that day. Although doctors had cleared her, she was in no shape to run.

“It feels like your legs weigh 10 times what they actually do,” Neylon said. “I remember that first meet and I could barely even move. But I guess it was good to see and it was a wake-up call for all the work I had to put in this season.”

“It’s like a big load of weight dumps on her back and she can’t control at all when it’s going to happen,” Reed said. “At least with an injury you can feel it when you’re walking around. With mono, you have no idea when you’re going to feel great and when you’re going to feel like you got hit by a truck.”

Neylon was dedicated to putting in the necessary work to get back to the times she was capable of running. She’d go through an entire practice then later go back to the track to get in even more work. But she and Reed had to be careful not to overwork as she tried to get back to form. Neylon said too much work could put her right back in the throes of another battle with full blown mono.

As it is now, the illness still affects Neylon. Her strength isn’t where it was before she was diagnosed, and a full day track meet zaps Neylon of her energy. Reed has been very careful to monitor just how much work Neylon is putting in to her training. Just a couple years ago, Reed, who is a marathon runner, was diagnosed with mono as well. Through her own research and the research of Neylon’s mother, she’s keenly aware of the dangers of overworking.

Reed can empathize with the struggle of wanting to spend so much time at the track to rebuild her strength while also needing to monitor closely just how much work is too much.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a young athlete with it because you have to cut way back,” Reed said. “So with our research and her approach, we changed her workouts and tailored them to her. When she felt ready, we amped it up a little more.”

The work has been worthwhile. In four of her last five meets, Neylon has clocked a 100-meter time under 13.1 seconds. She also helped her 400 relay teammates (Sophia Gardner, Zurich and Megan Kendall) run what is currently the third-best time in the state to win the Mount Lion Classic. And the 49.84-second time they ran in Altoona is only .21 behind the best time in the state.

What has been frustrating is Neylon has yet to find the consistency to continually run times like she did in Altoona. She’s hamstrung by how she feels day by day. Some days, she feels great and can run multiple events at a high level like she did in Altoona. Other days, like at Saturday’s Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference meet, Neylon was disappointed with the 12.95 second run in the finals, where she finished seventh.

But despite the disappointment, Neylon has come a long way since her first two races of the year when she didn’t break 14 seconds. She keeps that perspective to keep her from getting angry when she doesn’t run the time she wants to. Neylon will have an opportunity over the next four years to rebound from this disappointing spring. She’ll be running track beginning next year at LaSalle University where she’s planning to major in nursing.

It doesn’t mean she’s given up on this season, though. She’s still hoping for that third consecutive trip to the state meet in the 100. And she’s still hoping for a strong finish for the Lancers in the 400 relay.

“I definitely have a different mindset this year than I did last year. I want it more,” Neylon said. “It’s cool to be back after being down for so long. It’s good to see results and progress and my coach has told me every little victory counts.”

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