For Isaac Sutton of Glenn, that’s what this entire school year is all about. Last spring, his promising freshman season of track ended suddenly when he suffered a torn hamstring muscle a few weeks before the Central Piedmont 4-A championships.

“It was a meet on our home track, and I was running the leadoff leg of the 4x100 (-meter) relay,” Sutton said. “Midway through the curve, I heard a popping sound, but I kept running until I made the baton exchange.

“At first, I thought it was a case of the muscle being tight. I figured it could be fixed with a lot of stretching. But right after I walked off the track, the pain set in and it was a struggle for me to walk. Days later, I found out I had a deep tear.”

The severity of the injury put Sutton on the shelf for six months. His return to being normal, however, was not what he thought it would be. When Sutton showed up for indoor track workouts last November, he soon discovered that he’d have to start all over again − literally.

“I could barely jog, and I couldn’t do a lot of the warm-up drills either,” he said. “What I remember most is how everything was so awkward. I felt like a toddler who was being taught how to run.”

Sutton, now a sophomore, went through a six-week period of frustration as he started the laborious comeback process. By mid-December, he was back in his comfort zone as a runner, but still hesitant to go all-out for fear of being injured again.

In early January, he was ready to test himself. After running in a local indoor competition at the JDL Fast Track, he was pleased with his progress.

“That race was the first time in a long time where I felt like I didn’t have to hold anything back,” said Sutton, who runs the 100, 200, 4x100 , 4x200 and 4x400 relays. “I ran hard and there was no pain.”

Even though Sutton has shown noticeable improvement, Coach Kindra Ritzie-Worthy of Glenn acknowledges that the sprinter’s recovery is still a work in progress. In her mind, the key is how much Sutton’s confidence grows as he gets reacclimated to handling difficult workouts.

“It’s all a matter of Isaac getting back into the swing of things with his training,” she said. “And it’s all about building confidence. At some point, I believe he can be a top-four contender in the 100 and 200 at the state (Class 4-A) championships (which are Saturday at N.C A&T). But he has to get out of his own way. Right now, he’s his own worst critic.

“Isaac has to trust in his training and rely on his experience. As for the relays, he’s a strong asset and key component. When I first put him on the 4x200, they lowered their fastest time by a full second.”

Before last season’s injury, Sutton clocked a personal best of 23.4 seconds in the 200. Given that he posted that time fairly early in the 2018 outdoor season, there’s no telling how much more he might have improved had he stayed healthy.

“I’m not 100 percent yet, but I’m slowly getting there,” Sutton said. “This year, I haven’t run that many open 100s or 200s because I’m building a base to help my endurance. That’s why I’ve put more focus on running a leg of the 4x400 relay, which has made me stronger. I can really tell difference in the late stages of a race because I don’t slow down nearly as much as I used to.”

The start of the race is Sutton’s prime strength. He is arguably the quickest among the Bobcats coming out of the blocks. Aside from that, he’s cultivated a talent for mentoring.

“When I’m teaching, the first thing I do is emphasize the importance of being comfortable in the blocks,” he said. “After that, I show them how to use the blocks to get their momentum going. To get out quickly, you have to push out of the blocks with a lot of power.”

One of Sutton’s goals for this season is to receive a trip to the Class 4-A state championships and win one of the relay events. The Bobcats qualified for the Midwest 4-A Regional this past Monday in all three of the sprint relays. With a top-four finish at the regional, they will have advanced to the state meet.

“The injury kept me from going to the regionals last year, so this year makes my first time,” he said. “I get the impression that when people look at our relays, they don’t think we’re capable of doing much. So, we’re out to prove everybody wrong.

“I just want to make the top four and move on to the next stage. It’s been a while since Glenn won a state track title in any event. Winning would be even more special because my cousin (Jaden Sutton) is on the relay teams, too. That would be a great way for him to go out.”

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Craig T. Greenlee

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