Five years ago, doctors told Kelsey Kane she would not run competitively again. Looking back on it now, that prognosis proved to be all she needed.
Kane, a sixth-year distance runner at UT, is preparing for the SEC Championships on Nov. 1. in Gainesville, Fla., and without the continued renewal of those voices in her memory, her motivation would come from a different source.
"Some people told me that I wasn't going to run again and that even if I did, there was no way I was going to be able to compete on this level," Kane said Monday in an interview with a UT journalism class. "So even still, sometimes during hard workouts or races, the naysayers are in my mind, because I still want to prove them wrong and do better every year."
Within weeks of entering UT as freshman in the fall of 2008, Kane – a graduate of West High School in Knoxville – became afflicted with compartment syndrome, a condition that prevented her calf muscles from properly expanding.
It is a condition that can restrict blood flow and damage nerves.
Compartment syndrome is also painful, especially for someone who relies on the affected muscles.
"I was in tears after a 10-minute run," Kane said.
In the end, she decided the only thing more painful would be to let the condition win.
With the support of her mother, Missy Kane Bemiller, a former Olympian and UT cross country coach, and her stepfather, Jim Bemiller, a former UT pole vaulting coach, Kane elected to have surgery.
In the three weeks following the operation, Kane found herself in a wheelchair. She chose to stay at home as opposed to her assigned residence hall of Massey Hall.
"I needed some 'why me' self-pity for a little bit," Kane said. "I think it was good to get that out. So I just did that there, away from everyone else."
Following the wheelchair was another three weeks on crutches and two years of college that consisted of no competitive running.
So, why not quit?
"It was never an option," Kane said. "It was never on my plate to just stop running completely. It didn't even cross my mind after maybe that first week that I wouldn't run again. The doctor said to me multiple times that I wasn't going to run again, but I just wasn't going to take that answer."
Instead, Kane battled and found her way back to the track in a contributing role for UT in 2011 and has continued to aid the Lady Vols in competition since.
She was named the most improved on the 2011-12 cross country team and found a place on the 2012 SEC Academic Honor Roll
Competing athletically as a senior, she is a graduate student in sports psychology, perhaps a foreshadowing of what her future may hold.
"I really am trying to focus (sports psychology) towards coaching," Kane said. "I always enjoy being a part of a team and really seeing other people grow.
"It gives me more butterflies than when I run to see somebody else run."
But in the meantime, Kane is relishing the final leg of her own collegiate running career and what she considers "her first test," even after battling through the injury that easily could have ended her career.
"This year is probably my biggest trial," Kane said. "Coach wants me in the top 20 at the SEC (Championships). That's the next race, so that's what I'm going for."