NORTH ANDOVER — On the right day, when the headaches subside and the back pain relaxes long enough, life seems to be returning to normal for Mikayla Guthrie.
At least a few moments.
“I still don’t feel normal,” said Guthrie, a sophomore. “School is still very hard, and I know I’m not as fast as I used to be on the track. But I love being part of this team, and I like being able to contribute something.”
Last winter, Guthrie was a hotshot freshman who had emerged as North Andover’s top sprinter. She ran on a relay which advanced to New Englands.
Then life, and more than a little bad luck, stopped her in her tracks.
First, Guthrie lost her freshman outdoor track season to the effects of a broken back suffered a year earlier.
Then, in the fall, her life was thrown into disarray. She suffered a major concussion after a collision playing soccer, an injury that forced her to miss more than a month of school.
Now, more than a year after her greatest athletic accomplishments, Guthrie is dreaming of a return to normalcy, hopefully followed by track success.
“It will be a very happy day when she can return to normal activity,” said her mother, Ursula Guthrie. “She is a true athlete that just wants to get better. She is very determined to worth through this and overcome it.”
Guthrie grew up a standout young athlete. But her string of bad luck began in eighth grade lacrosse, when she suffered a broken vertebrae.
“I was going for a shot and I got pushed hard at the same time,” she said. “I (suffered) a bilateral pars fracture in my L5 vertebrae. I didn’t have surgery, but I had to be in a back brace twice, and had to get a bone growth stimulator.”
After considerable treatment and therapy, Guthrie returned to play high school soccer as a freshman. She then emerged as a standout in track, running on the 4x200 relay that took second at the Division 2 State Meet and was sixth at All-States.
“She really established herself as our best all-around sprinter,” said North Andover girls track coach Rick DelleChiaie. “She really had a fine indoor season and we were excited to see what she would do outdoors.”
But Guthrie never made it to outdoor track. Her back worsened, forcing her to sit out the season.
“The constant pounding of the hard track combined with soccer was just too much,” she said. “It was a stabbing pain in my back. I would have days where I could barely move. I told everyone that I was willing to fight through it and run, but my doctor said I couldn’t and my parents agreed.”
Guthrie recovered well enough to make the varsity soccer team in the fall. But then, disaster struck.
“I was playing in a Thanksgiving Day tournament and the ground was frozen because it was so cold out,” she remembered. “I was taking a shot, two girls knocked me over and I landed on my head.
“I got right up and continued to play the next game because I wasn’t feeling any symptoms. Then, in the next game, I was knocked down by another girl. I still just had a slight headache so my parents took me to the Woburn clinic where they said I might have a concussion, but probably not.”
As the weekend went on, however, Guthrie’s condition worsened.
“The next Monday I couldn’t go to school because my headache was so bad and I had sensitivity to light and sound,” she said. “So my parents took me to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with a severe concussion.”
Guthrie’s symptoms were so severe that she did not attend school from Thanksgiving until after the Christmas break, spending the majority of her time in a dark room.
“I would just lose words and stop conversations in the middle like I wasn’t talking,” she said. “I couldn’t watch TV or look at my phone because it hurt too badly. I was just in the dark all the time. I slept most of the day. I lost a lot of muscle tone.”
Ursula could see the negative effects the isolation was having on her daughter.
“When you are sick, all you want to do is lay down,” said Ursula. “Being active brings out the best in my daughter. She’s at her most complete when she is playing sports. When she’s not active, she’s miserable.
“We never thought it would take this long for her to recover. We expected her to be out for a few weeks, then get better. But missing the day-to-day routines of school and friends was tough.”
At the encouragement of her doctor, Guthrie finally began working her way back into normal activity late in the indoor track season. But that was not without trouble.
“I had a setback while running and started to get severe headaches,” said Mikayla. “I still have a lot of headaches and trouble concentrating and am still on medication. I also stepped on glass, and that set me back for a while. It has been hard. I still can’t run the 400 because it’s just too much. But it feels good to be working my way back.”
Guthrie was dealt yet another blow two weeks ago when her grandfather Alois “Opa” Brommer of Bradford passed away from lung cancer.
“That was really hard because we were really close,” she said. “After my concussion I would go over his house every day and we would keep each other company. Every Friday we would eat dinner together. That was very tough.”
But, through it all, Guthrie has continued to smile, and now dreams of the day when she can leave everything in the past.
“I hope that one day I can look back on all of this and laugh,” she said. “I hope this is the end of my injuries, and that I didn’t peak as a freshman. I want to heal up and be able to run again.”
Andover may be known for sprinting and relays, but the Golden Warrior girls are dominating in a whole new way.
The trio of Cassie Kobelski, Ryan MacRae and Melissa Shattuck blew away the competition at the EMass. Division 1 Relays over the weekend, as they teamed to win both the shot put relay (99-6.25) and discus relay (293-4).
The Golden Warriors finished second as a team with 63 points, trailing just Newton North (73 points) and well ahead of third place Acton-Boxboro (34 points).
The Andover boys also got in on the fun, as Mark Zavrl, Owen Focke and Ian Bensley took first in the javelin relay with a 423-3.
See her story
For a video interview with North Andover’s Mikayla Guthrie, visit eagletribune.com/sports.