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Amputee to Run in Cross-Country Meet

November 1, 2002

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ When she was in her hospital bed, after an accident that took her lower right leg, Shawna McCown made a promise to herself and her family.

``As soon as I was able to talk, I told my family I wanted to try. I was going to run again,″ Shawna McCown said. ``Of course, I’m not going to be as good as I was. I hope I can be. But I knew I would compete again.″

Nearly 18 months after the motorcycle crash that ripped her leg apart, McCown will compete for Morehead State in the Ohio Valley Conference Cross Country Championships on Saturday.

The accident, on May 30, 2001, came days before McCown’s graduation from Boyd County (Ky.) High School. On the day she was supposed to run in the state track meet, doctors amputated her right leg about six inches below the knee. She was hospitalized for weeks and had six operations.

She received an artificial leg a few months after the crash, but when the leg healed she couldn’t straighten it out. Her physical therapy included painful sessions in which she had to bend her knee for 30 minutes at a time.

``It’s definitely made me a stronger person,″ she said. ``More confident, actually, to know that I can get through something like this.″

Before the crash, McCown had signed a letter of intent to run track and cross country at Morehead State, about 120 miles from Louisville. The school honored the scholarship, and McCown, now a 20-year-old freshman, is working toward a degree in business.

She has been working out with the team since last spring, and after all the grueling rehabilitation, she’s ready to race on Saturday.

``It’s the first race of my new life,″ McCown said. ``A lot is riding on it. I’m nervous, anxious and excited ... everything into one.″

McCown doesn’t want to just finish the five-kilometer race, which is more than three miles. She wants to complete the course in less than 30 minutes. In high school, McCown once ran the distance in under 20 minutes.

McCown knows she’ll probably be at the back of the pack in the nine-team meet, to be held at Sunnybrook Golf Course in Morehead.

``I’d like to beat somebody, but I don’t know if that will happen or not,″ she said. ``I’m just going to run as fast as I can. ... I just need to do it to prove to myself that I can do it. And a lot of people still think that I can’t do it, so I’d like to show them as well.″

Waiting at the finish line will be her parents, Bill and Jan McCown. ``She has told us we are not allowed to cry,″ her mother said.

That rule might be too difficult to abide for Morehead assistant cross country coach Bob Stacey, who coached McCown in high school. ``I probably need to stay away from the finish line,″ he said.

Stacey said McCown has become a role model for the Morehead State team.

``Every day they ask me how much I’ve run and tell me how good I’m doing, and they’ll cheer for me while I’m jogging,″ she said.

When she started working out, McCown said, she couldn’t run longer than 200 meters without stopping because her leg throbbed.

By last spring she was up to a mile, and she kept adding more distance with each week, McCown said. She lifted weights to strengthen her right leg and swam to build endurance.

It was just a week ago that McCown ran three miles for the first time since her accident. Her time was 31 minutes, 37 seconds.

``I was just like, `Thank you, God, for letting me do this,‴ she said. ``I hurt the whole week afterwards, but it’s a good hurt, I guess, knowing that I did it. I’m very proud of myself.″

McCown must fight the temptation to push herself because a long run can be too painful.

``You know how it feels when you’re on your feet all day long?″ she said. ``That’s what it feels like after just running a mile; that’s what it feels like on the end of my leg. While I’m doing it, it doesn’t hurt. But after I get done, it is throbbing.″

Her long-term goal is to compete in the half-mile at the 2008 Paralympics, and her mother doesn’t doubt her will to accomplish that.

``She kind of sets the tone for everybody,″ Jan McCown said. ``We’re not going to tell her she can’t do anything.″

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