Hawkins returns to track after ACL injury -- thanks to a little help from his friends
When Wadena-Deer Creek junior Hunter Hawkins tore his ACL during the homecoming football game on Sept. 28, it was a devastating injury for this three-sport Wolverine athlete.
Not only because it ended his football and basketball seasons, but because Hawkins had his sights set on returning to the State Class A Track Meet, where last year he was a member of the 800-meter relay and 1600-meter relay that captured State titles.
With a serious injury like Hawkins', you wonder how a 17-year-old kid is going to respond to the recovery process. Are they going put the work in to recover as soon as possible? The recovery process is a long and arduous journey that takes a significant amount of discipline and dedication.
Hawkins met with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ben Robertson who told him if everything goes good — surgery, rehab and strengthening — Hawkins could possibly be back for track season in the spring.
“From day one, Dr. Robertson said if all goes good and I worked hard, it was a realistic goal for me to return for track season,” said Hawkins.
With that glimmer of hope, Hawkins could think of nothing else. After a nearly two-hour surgery on Oct. 17 at Tri-County Health Care (TCHC), soon after Hawkins started working with the physical therapy department at TCHC.
“I worked with some great therapists there that really helped me,” said Hawkins.
Sarah Maninga, athletic trainer at TCHC and at Wadena-Deer Creek Schools, also started working with Hawkins over the next several months. She was right there with Hawkins through the process and put in a ton of time with him during and after school working on stretches, strengthening and running.
In the school’s weight room, Maninga and Hawkins focused on strengthening. The goal was to get Hawkins’ muscle mass back to where it was pre-surgery and then work on preventing another knee injury — through proprioceptive exercises, core strength and hip strength.
“I think there were definitely somedays that he didn’t appreciate my workouts and other times where he probably thought I was holding him back too much,” said Maninga. “But now, I think he realizes it all needed to take place to be able to get to this point.”
WDC Track & Field Head Coach Marc Reynolds agrees. “Having Sarah there to keep tabs on his recovery and keep on him on a daily basis has been key for Hunter’s recovery.”
Shortly before the Sam Kelderman Memorial Track & Field Meet on May 2, Hawkins received some good news from Maninga. The plan was to start Hawkins slow by competing in one running event and in a slower heat.
“Sarah told me I’d be running in the 100-meter dash —I’d never ran a 100-meter dash! I was freaking out, but I was happy I was able to run,” said Hawkins.
The day arrived and Hawkins was placed in the third heat. His goal was to run 12 seconds. Ironically, he’d be running on the track that passes by the 30-yard line of the football field — the exact spot he tore his ACL more than six months prior.
It was a nerve-racking time before the race. Who was more nervous — Hawkins or Maninga?
“She sort of treats me like her kid,” said Hawkins of Maninga. “I’m pretty sure she was more nervous than I was.”
Hawkins ended up 4th overall with a time of 11.66 seconds!
“It felt GREAT!” said an overjoyed Hawkins. “I was just trying to beat 12 seconds, that was my goal.”
Even though he is back running, Maninga said Hawkins still has lots more work to do. They will continue to work throughout the rest of this spring season and through the summer to get him ready for football and basketball.
“I’m just excited to be at this point. I couldn’t have done it without Sarah, the physical therapists at Tri-County and Dr. Robertson,” said Hawkins.