These days, when Dylan Pensyl competes in track & field events, he doesn’t just want to win.
“A lot of people have goals, like ‘I want to hit this time, I want to jump this jump,’” the fifth-year senior said. “But my main goal is to just stay healthy and compete at every meet and just have fun.”
For Pensyl, who returned to the track this month with a team-high sixth place finish in the long jump, those goals were impossible to accomplish a year ago.
An undiagnosed knee injury slowly prevented Pensyl from excelling athletically and the pain eventually forced him to the sidelines in Fall 2012.
“I ended up fighting through a lot of pain to the point where it was getting in the way of my training,” Pensyl said. “It was enough that I couldn’t run or jump, so it was really frustrating.”
Pensyl said that later in the fall semester, doctors told him he had a piece of bone that was chipped off next to his knee – the cause of the discomfort. Doctors then attempted a needle procedure to alleviate the pain.
“They numbed the area, jabbed it with the needle and try to break up the piece of bone as much as they could,” Pensyl said. “It wasn’t huge, it was literally a millimeter. So they had to break that up and stimulate blood flow as much as they could.”
After two of those procedures, Pensyl was still pain-stricken.
January 2013 greeted Pensyl with a crucial decision. It was a choice that the walk-on senior was facing for the first time in his athletic career: surgery or no surgery. Pensyl opted for the surgery, but the decision was not easy.
“The one thing that I regret the most about my injury was that I didn’t take it very well,” Pensyl said. “I was unable to do a lot of the stuff that I like doing. I, in a way, shut down. My friends and teammates would go away for meets on the weekend and I would see how well they did and how much fun they had, just knowing how much fun it is to go away and compete in these meets and knowing that that’s what it’s all about.”
“I did go to a lot of practices, but it’s just hard to sit there and watch your team practice and you have to just stand on the sideline,” Pensyl added.
Although Pensyl was unable to participate during practices, he still supported his teammates.
“He was still encouraging to everyone else,” senior captain Gabe Pickett said. “He was there emotionally and there for support, which was really good because we needed that upper-class type leadership.”
In March 2013, Pensyl underwent a tibial biopsy – a minor incision to take out the small piece of bone.
“The surgery went pretty quick, my body reacted well,” Pensyl said. “We were just really relieved that it worked and it was a quicker process.”
For the rest of the spring semester and throughout the summer, Pensyl said he went through rehab at home, trying to get his strength back while waiting to be cleared by his doctor.
After a long and challenging year, Pensyl returned to the track in Fall 2013.
“To be able to jump again, pain-free, to be able to go to these meets again and watch my teammates compete and compete alongside them, there is nothing better,” Pensyl said. “That is why I chose to come back. It’s all coming through now. A year ago was when I was making the decision to redshirt, I remember it was just January, the beginning of the semester, and to look at it a year later and see I am now competing.”
Pickett said he’s glad to see Pensyl out on the track, guiding the rest of the team.
“For me, seeing him out there competing again, it’s good to know after such a long road he still has that type of drive, that type of fire, that after such a long road, he persevered,” Pickett said.
“He has definitely grown,” coach Eric Mobley said. “He knows to take advantage of every opportunity, because you never know.”
Now that this is the final season of his collegiate career, Pensyl said he’s more appreciate than ever.
“The time off that I had and the time away from the sport humbled me and made me realize that I can’t take stuff for granted,” Pensyl said.
“I know I did,” Pensyl added. “I know those meets during my sophomore and junior year, I was just like, ‘Oh it’s another meet,’ and we had fun doing it, and it was always fun, but that’s the type of thing that gets away from you. Once you miss it, then you start to realize how much it matters – not only the meets, but the practices. I fell in love with practice again.”
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.