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Hurricane thrives after almost losing foot

Lauren McKinley has run well after a boating accident exactly one year ago.

Palm Harbor University's Lauren McKinley will do something today her coaches and doctors never would have thought possible a year ago.

She will be at track practice.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of a gruesome injury McKinley suffered in a boating accident, one that nearly sliced off her left foot.

Many have wondered why the senior is running. But not McKinley. She has made a strong comeback, earning first-team all-county honors in cross country and setting the school record in the mile this spring.

"It is amazing to see what she has done," Hurricanes coach Rob Jenkins said. "But if there was one person who would have been able to come back from something like that, it is her."

On March 21, 2000, PHU was scheduled to participate in a meet. Darryl Southard, then the girls coach, said he decided not to have McKinley and others run so they could be fresh for the Florida Relays, which were a couple of days later.

"I told them to go ahead and relax," Southard said.

McKinley and her friends relaxed by wakeboarding on Lake Tarpon. During the trip, McKinley and teammate Emily Wehr fell from the boat after a sharp turn. As McKinley waded in the water, the boat, still turning, barrelled toward her. McKinley did not react quickly enough and her leg was caught by the propeller.

The propeller shaved off the bottom layer of her foot and made several more gashes before the boat turned away.

McKinley said she knew something was wrong, but it wasn't until she made it onto the boat that she realized how bleak the situation was.

"I was basically holding my foot together," McKinley said. "I was in shock. It was dangling."

So was her future in the sport. The tendons and nerves had been cut, and doctors told her she might not walk, much less run competitively, again.

Nevertheless, McKinley held out hope. After surgery, she wrote a letter to Southard, telling him she would be there for cross country and break the school record in the mile in track.

"I just knew I was going to run again," McKinley said. "I swim. I run. I've been in gymnastics. I've always been an athlete."

McKinley rehabilitated by running. She had been out for three months, and the absence showed. She could barely make it through a 2-mile run, and she ran her first cross country meet of the season in 24 minutes, 5 minutes slower than normal.

McKinley worked herself into shape. She was a state qualifier in cross country and broke the school record in the mile during the first meet, finishing in 5:31 at the Lady Tornado Invitational.

There are a few more things McKinley said she would like to accomplish. She hopes to lower her times and qualify for state.

Getting there could be difficult. A member of the International Baccalaureate program, McKinley's final exams are the same day as regionals in West Palm Peach. McKinley said she hopes to finish her exams early enough to make it for the mile.

But if she doesn't, she can at least take solace in knowing how far she has made it.

"What Lauren has done I never would have thought possible," Southard said. "She is a very determined person."

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