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‘Itsy-bitsy spider’: Born conquered broken feet in running career

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Molly Born tramples across the track, her feet growing wearier with each step as the pain becomes inevitable.

She endured this chronic pain — navicular stress fractures in her left foot for the early part of her college career. She continued to work through the injuries because she said she loves competing. She wants to win and become one of the best in her cross country and distance running events.

So, that’s why she will spend this weekend celebrating her newly obtained horticulture degree on the track, vying for a 10K conference title in the Big 12 Track & Field Championships. Not in a packed Gallagher-Iba Arena with an hours-long ceremony. She said she likes spending time outdoors and working with nature. Fitting response for a trackster. She will return in the fall for a final year of eligibility. She said she couldn’t let another cross country season pass without helping her team.

“This is so much more special to be with your team,” she said. “The sacrifices make it all worth it. Doing well make the sacrifices all worth it.”

The sacrifices like her consistent foot injuries. Her absences in competition span from November 2021 to January 2023 thanks to left foot surgery for navicular stress fractures. She became a cheerleader for her teammates when the Cowgirls won a Big 12 Cross Country title in the fall. Same deal in the OSU-hosted NCAA Championships where the Cowgirls’ fourth-place finish became a program-best.

Dave Smith, OSU’s cross country and track coach understood her condition toward the beginning of her career. She suffered navicular stress fractures on her right foot in school and the pain carried to her right foot later in college. So, Smith presented Born with two options.

No. 1: Limit training to protect her feet and risk future injuries.

No. 2: “On the other side, we can say screw it,” Smith said. “Let’s go for it and if it breaks it breaks.”

Oh, it broke. During the 2021 NCAA Cross Country Championships. She said she felt the pain in the regional race but still ran through the injury.

“Molly was like, ‘If it breaks it breaks,'” he said. “'I want to go. I want to train. I want to see how good I can be. I want to see how far I can go.'”

She trained when her body allowed and continued to pursue her goals after she became a cross country All-American in 2019. Her feet are healed and Born said the surgeries ensure they have little chance to re-fracture.

Smith analogized Born’s resiliency to a song he sings with his 2-year-old daughter. The “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Rain washes the spider away from the drain. But the spider returns and tries again.

Same result.

“That’s Molly,” Smith said. “She’s incredibly resilient and it’s been I think hard at times to keep a positive view on what you’re able to do. She does and fights back every time. Struggles to get through, gets through and here we are.”

So when Born takes to the track in Norman, a new, healthy version of the graduate student will compete.

"I think she might be as good as she’s ever been right now," Smith said. "That is coming off another set of injuries and frustrations that she went through in the fall. So pretty amazing.”