By Dave Dyer
---- — The fall season, with the pleasant temperatures and beautiful colors, has always been a godsend for Haverhill’s Julie Solimine, just as it is for most distance runners.
With the cross country season signaling the start of another competitive season, and often the most enjoyable, Solimine is once again running with enthusiasm and purpose, just like she did for four years as a standout for the Hillies.
But last year, it was more like an autumn of hell for the Providence College junior.
First, in late July, Solimine suffered a stress fracture of her femur, which pretty much wiped out the cross country season. That was depressing enough but things got worse — far worse — in November.
Just when it seemed like her leg was healing, she started experiencing extreme pain, so bad that for several days she could barely make it to class without crutches. Then she started feeling weak throughout her body, got all sorts of swelling and began getting physically sick.
Finally, it got so bad that a Providence College trainer took her to a local hospital, where she got a thorough examination.
What the doctors eventually found was that Solimine had a genetic clotting disorder that had caused a blood clot that spread from her knee all the way into her lung. This was serious.
Sent back to Boston, Solimine needed three surgeries at Beth Israel Hospital to clear up the clot. Stints were inserted into her leg to keep the veins open.
During one of the procedures, a surgeon told her that, potentially, with the splints in her leg, she might never compete again.
“I didn’t want to hear that but at the time I just wanted to feel better,” said Solimine.
After a slow recovery period, in which just climbing stairs was a major chore, Solimine got good news two months later when she went for a follow-up visit with her doctor.
“He said I could get back into running but to take it slow,” she said, “because I had damage to my lungs that affected my breathing and because I was so out of shape.”
After such a scary experience, many a runner wouldn’t even try a competitive comeback and instead would be content with a jog around the block. But that’s not Solimine.
“I definitely had some doubts I could ever make it back,” she said. “But I would have regretted it if I didn’t try.”
In January, she started some occasional easy running. It wasn’t easy.
“I found it frustrating because I still had pain in my leg and my groin, and it wasn’t easy to breathe,” she said.
But Solimine is one determined runner, so she stuck with it. She began a training schedule in March and picked it up in April. By the summer, she was on a schedule more like she was accustomed, but she had lingering doubts that she’d once again be a strong, competitive runner.
Then, came Labor Day weekend. Providence, which is ranked No. 1 in the country in women’s cross country, ran in a meet at the University of New Hampshire. She miraculously finished in 10th place as the Friars’ fifth runner with a time of 18:41 for 5.0 kilometers.
“It was nice to see I could do a race like that and hang in there with some great runners,” said Solimine who, with a 3.91 average as a biology major, certainly has not let her academics slip. “My confidence was shot after last year, so it was definitely a big confidence boost.
“I was in the best shape of my life when I had that stress fracture and I was out a long time, so I definitely have a ways to go. But I see myself getting back to where I was.”
It may take the entire fall, in fact, to get all the way back, but her drive to overcome such a setback has been remarkable, with her finish at the UNH meet putting an exclamation point on it.
“It’s quite a story the way she’s come back,” said Haverhill cross country and track coach Mike Maguire. “I couldn’t be prouder of her.”
The Solimine trifecta
Julie isn’t the only Solimine to once again be enjoying the fall. Younger sister Jackie has gotten off to a super start as a freshman at UMass Lowell. She came in first at the Keene State College Alumni Invitational and then came in 10th overall and first for UMass Lowell at the America East Pre-Conference meet.
Meanwhile, youngest sister Jenna is a promising freshman for the Hillies.