Staring a possible career-ending injury in the face is not an easy thing to do.
Pair that with a rigorous collegiate major such as kinesiology and the cards are quickly stacked against you.
A 5 a.m. wake-up time as a sophomore in college to get one-on-one attention with the training staff only for no progress to be shown pushed Charlette Janicek’s running future at the University of Texas at San Antonio closer to uncertainty.
“(Treatment) was the only thing that I was really focused about doing, that and my grades,” she said. “There was a point where I didn’t think it was going to get better. I thought I was going to have to live with this pain in my knee for the rest of my life.”
Janicek, a 2015 graduate of Sealy High School, graduated this month from UTSA. She was a four-time recipient of the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll, a three-time C-USA Academic Medal winner and made UTSA’s President’s List four times and its Dean’s List twice.
The pain in her knee that almost ended her running career was as a result of iliotibial band syndrome or IT Band Syndrome (ITBS), where connective tissue rubs up against the thighbone. She added that she did not have full range of motion in her knee and that was causing her to miss time on the track, forcing her to contemplate if she’d ever be pain-free again.
Those thoughts coincided with the end of the fall semester and Janicek soon returned to Sealy where he running career started. One person who witnessed her career take off in high school was one of her coaches, Jeff McDaniel, who currently serves as the full-time athletic trainer for the school.
“He showed me about progressive resistance,” she began. “Coming back from injury I could only go about a quarter mile then I’d have to take the next day off and it took me about four months to get back up to six miles but I ended up getting there and I had to redshirt my cross country and indoor season.”
Because of her work with McDaniel, she was fully rehabilitated by the time the outdoor season was picking up and Janicek didn’t miss a beat, eventually qualifying for the Conference USA Outdoor Championships in the 1500-meter run.
“If it weren’t for him I probably wouldn’t have gotten better by May and I probably wouldn’t have kept running,” she admitted.
Janicek added that her college commitment was sort of a last-minute decision as well and her running career nearly ended after high school when college coaches weren’t reaching back out, until one school board member put her in contact with a former Texas A&M coach.
“I signed with UTSA 10 days before graduating from Sealy, but I looked at a bunch of schools and reached out to a bunch of coaches my junior year,” she said. “Joe Mike Young knew an old coach from A&M who had retired and he put me in contact with a couple coaches from different schools and Coach (David) Hartman was one of them; he was at UTSA at the time so I made a trip down here and the visit went well and it just felt like home and so I decided to come here.”
Not only was the connection with the coach important to her but the high level of competition also drew her to become a Roadrunner, Janicek said.
“The team was really good, that was a big thing for me too; having teammates that will push me on the track,” she added. “I wanted to be able to compete at a high level against competitive athletes but also at practice, I wanted teammates that would push me so that when it comes to competition I would have that experience and I wouldn’t just be competing during the meets.”
Those efforts paid off by Janicek bettering her marks each year, except for her injury-shortened sophomore campaign, and earning a spot in three indoor conference championships and two conference championship meets on the outdoor circuit, and that was only on the track.
On the cross-country course, she made the Conference USA Championships each year she was healthy enough to run and twice competed at the south central regional championships against the best of the best in college track.
Of course, now that her four years are over, the balancing act of being a full-time Division I track star while building up her resume to get into physical therapy school seems like a breeze but she mentioned there were plenty of moments when the exact opposite seemed true.
“It was a big transition my freshman year having to learn how to study and also how to handle it as a student-athlete,” she said. “Having to get all my pre-requisites in for PT school and the hours I needed for observation … I really needed to learn how to prioritize and sacrifice things that I wanted to in order to reach my goals; I had to study on buses, on the floor of airports, in the corners of stadiums if I could find a quiet place … I knew what I wanted, and I knew what it would take to get there so I was willing to make those sacrifices.”
Speaking of sacrifices, Janicek spoke to the notion of giving up the typical college experience for her time on the track but added that she didn’t feel gypped of those social interactions.
“People always talk about sacrificing your social life (as a student-athlete) but I feel like I still got that in a way,” she said. “I got to meet teammates and I got to make friends from other teams, so I guess I just got that in a different aspect. I didn’t get the same social life as other college students, but I felt like I got a different version of it.”
Part of that alternate type of school was the travel that she mentioned, although it did not serve as an adequate excuse to skimp on her studying.
“I got to compete all over the United States,” she said. “Being able to travel with the team was definitely something I am very grateful for and something I wouldn’t have been able to do if it weren’t for sports,” she said, listing states like California, Massachusetts and New York.
Obviously, the school had to be the right fit which included having the major that she wanted, which UTSA offers. Janicek was also given the opportunity to intern at a clinic which sparked her interest in her specialty.
“At the end of school I’ll be an entry-level physical therapist so I’ll be able to go into any setting that I want to but I’m not really sure (what I want to do yet),” she said. “I was always very
interested in geriatrics but this past semester I interned at a clinic and I think I might want to go into neurology, so I might be giving that a shot but that still could change.
“It was part of my degree to intern and so I was accepted at this clinic and they have an orthopedic side and a neurology side and I got to work alongside a physical therapist and I really enjoyed it there, I had a lot of fun and it was a good way to end my college career on the academic side,” she said
Also signaling the end of her time at UTSA was last weekend’s graduation, where she walked across the stage with magna cum laude distinction on a day that she mentioned crossed her mind plenty of times during her years.
“This has been the day I’ve been waiting for these past four years,” she said of the May 19 ceremony. “I’ve always been so excited, I’ve taken tests and thought, ‘I can’t wait to graduate and be done with all of it.’ But now that it’s here, it is bittersweet. I’m sad to leave my teammates, my coach and all the friends and classmates behind but I know I have so many more good times ahead of me as well and I’m very excited for it.”
That next step will be heading down to Galveston for three more years of school focusing solely on physical therapy at The University of Texas Medical Branch, a decision she noted ended up being a fairly easy one.
“I applied to five schools, all in Texas, and this is the only one I got into,” she said with a laugh. “I guess it’s meant to be, I guess I’m supposed to go this route so I’m gonna go with it.”
Janicek added that she was granted a fifth year of undergrad to make up for the time she lost on the track due to injury but included the reason why that too was a not-so-hard decision.
“I definitely put my education above athletics,” she said. “I enjoy running a lot, I’m definitely gonna keep doing it, it’s going to be something I’m always going to have in my life and keep coming back to but I think I’m ready for the next chapter in my life.”
When asked what it meant to represent her town through her entire journey and beyond, she added there was plenty of pride in saying she’s from Sealy.
“It’s been awesome,” she said. “My dad graduated from Sealy so to know that he graduated from Sealy and all three of his kids graduated from Sealy, they have such a great athletics program that’s really grown over the years, even cross country the few years after I graduated, both teams made it to the regional meet so I was really proud of them in that they kept it going after I graduated.”
Janicek added that she wouldn’t have been able to get over everything had it not been from the support of her biggest fans.
“I definitely couldn’t have done it without my parents,” she said. “They were a big support in this whole thing and they were always there when I would call home to help me keep going through (the injury), even when there were times when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to finish out but they kept me going and staying positive through the whole thing and I’m glad they were there for me.”