Standing near the bleachers inside the first two turns of the Center Grove track, Olivia Rassel watches teammates go through their pre-practice routine.
Rassel’s athletics instinct and competitive nature scream at the senior sprinter to join them.
Only she can’t.
On April 5, Rassel, one of the program’s most-trusted point producers since bursting onto the scene as a freshman in 2014, underwent surgery at Community Hospital South to repair a herniated disc in her lower back.
The two-time state finals qualifier and owner of Center Grove’s fastest times in the 100- and 200-meter dashes is expected to miss the entire season.
Hardly the storybook conclusion to her high school track career Rassel had envisioned.
“I’ve always been pretty close to my teammates, and we have a lot of depth on our team this year. I’m so excited for them,” Rassel said. “I think they’re all going to do really well.
“We definitely have more talent this season than we did last year, and so I’m sad I can’t be part of that talent.”
Rassel was experiencing discomfort in her lower back at the beginning of last summer. However, X-rays taken over Center Grove’s fall break in October didn’t reveal anything significant.
An MRI performed in November showed Rassel had a herniated disc.
She attempted to remedy the situation with non-surgical procedures such as physical therapy sessions and epidural steroid injections. The latter, a series of three injections timed approximately a month apart, were designed to take pressure off the sciatic nerve.
Neither approach produced the desired results. As recently as February, Rassel started to realize she might have no choice but to undergo surgery and sit out her final season of track.
Invited to sit down for an interview earlier this week, Rassel politely declined, stating standing was part of her recovery. This includes the classroom where Rassel, an excellent student (4.2 grade-point average), must stand in a corner of the room.
“I’m not sure when I can sit down again,” Rassel said. “I’m allowed to lay down, which is good. But my recovery time will be six to eight weeks, so that will be when I can start working out again.
“I may be able to sit again within a couple of weeks, but I have to make sure I have really good posture.”
On March 29, Rassel verbally committed to attend the University of Dayton, where she will run track and likely major in chemistry. She signed her national letter of intent with the Flyers on Wednesday.
The days and weeks ahead won’t be easy for Rassel, who is accustomed to high-level competition. She plans to use her three seasons of varsity experience to assist Trojans teammates both at practice and during meets.
“I’m just there for them to give them advice. Talk them through the mental aspect because they know that they can do it physically,” she said. “Track has always been something that calms me.”
As it should Center Grove coach Wes Dodson, who just went from having four assistant coaches to having five.
“Just the leadership Olivia offers. She has always been a leader on the team, and she still comes to practice every day,” Dodson said. “She’s been through it all and will be there to encourage the girls.
“I’m not going to put her in charge of the sprinters, but she can help out all she can. It’s got to be disappointing to look and see all these girls getting to participate, and you don’t get the opportunity to do that. But I think Olivia has handled it real well.”
LEAVING HER MARK
Olivia Rassel made quite an impact on Center Grove girls track during her first three seasons:
100-meter dash: 12.14 seconds (2014 Johnson County Meet)
200-meter dash: 25.39 seconds (2015 state finals)