Lauren Ho has gotten a lot of support from her friends, including Nicole Anderson, Max Stevens and Todd Iacovelli.

Not slowing down

Lauren Ho won't let a bulging disc put
a damper on her goal of running again

Years of churning brilliantly over cross-country courses and track ovals didn't prepare Lauren Ho for the work she had to do in August.

That was when Hawaii Baptist Academy's heralded two-sport state champion hit the pool at Kailua Recreation Center. Five days per week, she diligently aqua-jogged and swam. After several weeks, even the lifeguards noticed that Ho got faster and stronger.

A bulging disc is more common to the average, middle-aged, overweight person. When it happened to Ho, Hawaii's Gatorade Track and Field Female Athlete of the Year, there was plenty of reason for concern.

There was also plenty of surprise.

Ho trains year-round, watches her diet and works out. Her doctor's diagnosis was bleak -- no running for a long time. Jogging, yes, but nothing competitive.

Ho thrives on competition, of course. She went to three specialists and regained hope.

"Those people all said the injury wasn't that bad," she said.

The sun is setting. The Eagles cross-country team has just completed an session of long-distance work. Ho returned to racing a week early. In fact, just two days prior, she entered her first event of the season. By a margin of 1 minute, 40 seconds over the runner-up, Ho won the Kaiser Invitational held at Koko Head. Not bad for a rusty champ who had a bulging disc.

But after cooling down to end Monday's practice, she feels it. Stiffness in that lower back area. It's the first time she's felt the tightness since rehab began. Within a few minutes, Ho is in the whirlpool, temperature set at 60 degrees.

Summer went extremely well, at least through July. Ho spent that month in Washington with her sister and some relatives. She went to a cross-country camp in Olympic Peninsula. The experience was invaluable, a dream for dedicated harriers like Ho.

On the same day she returned from Washington, Ho went straight home, put on her running shoes, and hit the pavement for a run. Maybe it was the hours she spent crunched up in a passenger seat on the plane. Or the years of playing youth soccer, the pounding of long-distance running.

There's no pinpoint reason why Ho felt a sharp pain in her lower back during that run.

So, August was spent in the Kailua Rec pool. There were also strength workouts for her lower back and abs.

Ever the student -- she had a 4.0 grade-point average last year and now has a cumulative 3.78 -- Ho applied tremendous discipline to her training and rehab. Her self-control is remarkable for an athlete of any age.

She kept on pace with the program set by therapists and HBA trainer Jason Ishikawa. The rehab went well. Anytime Ho wanted to increase workouts, she consulted with her mentors first. There's never been a problem when it comes to seeking wise counsel, not for Ho.

She took up cross country as an eighth grader at HBA. It was a natural progression of sorts.

"In soccer, you run so much, and after, you do sprints," she said. "I stopped playing soccer after my sophomore year. I still miss it, though."

In addition to last year's cross-country state title, she won three events at the state track and field championships. The rest she enjoyed during the winter season in-between was crucial.

"I thought about playing soccer this year, but I don't know if my body would be able to handle it," she said.

With the disc problem, Ho had to make more compromises.

"In a way, I had to change my lifestyle," said Ho, who pays close attention to her posture at all times now, even for something a simple as picking up a pencil. When she drives, a pillow behind her back provides support.

At the Straub Clinic in Kailua, she has done six traction sessions.

"You lay down on a table and they stretch your back," Ho said. "It helped a lot."

The past two months have been a matter of mind power, or mind over matter.

"I've had to be patient. I needed a lot of support from my friends," she said, referring to former Iolani standout Nicole Anderson and HBA graduate Max Stevens. "The person who helped me most was Todd Iacovelli. He's been through a lot of injuries."

Iacovelli, a former Punahou athlete, is now a senior at Michigan. He guided Ho through the pool workouts, but his support was equally important.

"He encouraged me about getting through this, letting me know I'd be fine," she said.

Looking back, Ho has been fortunate. That's the only way she views an injury that could've sidelined most high school athletes.

"This injury was so complicated, but if it had to happen, it wasn't the worst time," she said. "I'm so glad I got to go to camp."

In addition, her circle of coaches and trainer Ishikawa are monitoring her closely.

"They have me mix running with pool workouts. And they warned me that there's a chance I won't run (in league meets) every week," she said.

That, naturally, is good news for other runners in the ILH.

Punahou coach Duncan Macdonald recently said that Ho could sit out two months and still win the ILH crown.

"I think she's really smart," said Ross Mukai, who has overseen the HBA program since it began more than four years ago. "She knows there's more at stake than just one race. She's looking at her overall future. That's why I trust her."

Ho dreams of running for the Washington Huskies one day. She will take an official visit next month. By then, her strength will be back up to normal levels.

"I'm in shape enough to run three miles hard, but I kind of lost my endurance," she said of the August rest and rehab.

"In the pool, it's just short, hard intervals. I'm there aerobically."

She won't eat red meat or chocolate, but maintains a balanced diet.

"I make sure I get my protein, my carbs, and I like fruits," she said.

"And Clif bars and Powerbars."

That kind of attention to detail gives Mukai and Ho's circle of fans plenty of confidence.

"I know we can watch her progress and make sure she keeps giving us feedback," Mukai said.

"That's the main thing. That's what makes her great and will continue to keep her going."

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