Notre Dame's Anna Rohrer looks to retain her spot among elite distance runners

Tim Creason
Tribune Correspondent

It’s been barely a year.

For Anna Rohrer, it has felt like a lifetime.

But success in tonight’s 10,000-meter run at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships could make a lot of bad memories go away.

Rohrer, a Notre Dame junior but a sophomore athletically, hopes to contend for a national title during the women’s race at Oregon’s Hayward Field.

And if not a championship, then at least a competitive race that shows she has regained her spot among the nation’s distance running elite.

The race is scheduled to start at 9:38 p.m. (EDT), and may be viewed on ESPN2.

For most of the past year, Rohrer — a former Mishawaka High School standout — has been sidelined by injuries, first in her back, then in her right hamstring.

It’s a story she knows way too well.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing to watch others run, and run great, while you are just sitting there,” said Rohrer, a five-time NCAA All-American.

“Just when I was on my way back from a back injury, I hurt my hamstring,” she said. “I don’t really have the words (to express how that felt).”

Rohrer’s high school career at Mishawaka was marked by state records, national championships and aggravating injuries. She won her first Foot Locker national high school cross country title as a sophomore, then sat out her junior cross country season with an injury. She then won the national title again as a senior.

Her college career has gone much the same way. A year ago, she was the favorite to win the NCAA 10K — the same race she is running Thursday evening — but a back injury suffered at the ACC meet a few weeks earlier knocked her out of contention. She gave it her best shot, but ended up 16th.

Shortly thereafter, the hamstring went.

She didn’t run another race for 11 months, skipping the cross country season last fall and the indoor track season earlier this year. and as late as April, it didn’t look like an outdoor season was in the cards, either.

That’s when Rohrer made a fateful decision. While the doctors and trainers had tried various treatments, nothing was really working.

So …

“I went back to the sports medicine people at St. Vincent’s (in Indianapolis),” she said.

Those were the folks who had helped her through her high school injuries. For lack of a better way of explaining it, they discovered her hips were “out of line.”

“They gave me some therapies to straighten everything up,” she said.

Once the hip adjustments were made, “it felt a lot better,” she said.

Rohrer resumed training under the watchful eye of Notre Dame associate coach Matt Sparks. and on April 26, she returned to the track for the first time in 11 months at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia.

There, she won the women’s 10,000-meter run in 33:25.24.

“The field was good, but not world-class,” said Sparks. “We wanted to put Anna in a position that would be competitive, but not require an absolute all-out effort. It was good for her both physically and emotionally, I think.”

A few weeks later, it was on to the ACC championships, where Rohrer ran a good race and finished second to Louisville’s Dorcas Wasike in the 10K.

Wasike, by the way, is one of the favorites in Thursday night’s national championship event.

On May 24, Rohrer cruised through the NCAA East regional in Tampa, Fla., where the only real goal was to finish among the top 12 and qualify for the national finals. She did that, finishing second in 33:54.15, and was delighted to turn around and see that her teammate, junior Annie Heffernan, had qualified along with her.

“Having Annie beside me is great,” said Rohrer. “It has helped so much to train with her. She has helped me so much, and I hope I’m helping her.”

Now, after missing almost a year of training, Rohrer will be running in another national championship race. Her goal, of course, is to win. But …

“If I can leave the track feeling like I gave it my best, I’ll be happy,” said Rohrer.

“She’s going to run like she always does, try to win it, but even if she’s in that 3-4-5 range, I think we would be really content,” said Sparks. “This is one of the toughest women’s 10K fields in years.”

Sparks hopes Rohrer can pull Heffernan into the top 16, which would earn All-America honors.

Away from the track, Notre Dame’s Nate Richartz was hoping to contend for a national championship in the pole vault Wednesday night.

Also Thursday night, viewers can see Notre Dame’s Jessica Harris compete in the semifinals of the women’s 1500-meter run at 7:16 p.m.

Notre Dame’s Matt Birzer competes in the men’s high jump on Friday, and Rachel DaDamio runs the women’s 5,000 on Saturday.

After nearly a year off because of injuries, Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer will be competing for a national championship in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship tonight at the University of Oregon. The Mishawaka grad is seen running at the ACC Indoor meet at Notre Dame in February, 2017.