There was a time when people thought Isaiah Valentine would never run track again.
That was far from true. He didn't miss a meet this season and plans on continuing to run at the next level. But before that chapter opens, one will close this Friday.
The Shady Spring senior qualified for the 400 and is a member of three relay teams that will compete at the Class AA state track and field championships at University of Charleston Stadium.
He's come a long way since September.
The Tigers had opened a delayed football season with a victory over Nicholas County. Valentine had a nice start to his senior year — 76 yards rushing, including Shady's first touchdown of the season, and a receiving touchdown.
But he came away with an injury, swelling in his right knee. It was so bad that he was taken to the emergency room that night.
The news was not good — Valentine was diagnosed with compartment syndrome, which occurs when there is too much pressure within the muscles. It causes severe pain and reduced blood flow.
Valentine required immediate surgery.
"They think it occurred through the years," he said. "I guess it was bound to happen eventually."
Recovery has not been simple, and has yet to stop despite Valentine's ability to compete.
"It's definitely been a long, hard process and I'm definitely blessed to be back running. I'm blessed to be back walking," he said.
"I was in a wheelchair for a couple of months and then I went to crutches. Then I went to therapy for a couple of months and from there I just started jogging and upping the speed.
"I tried to stay as positive as I could, but obviously through some tough times it was tough. But I had friends and family to support me and help me cope with it."
Through that help and his sheer will, Valentine was able to get back on the track. The start of the season was delayed because of Covid, which gave him extra time to rehab, but he still is not 100 percent.
"We've tried to help him out and get him in the weight room," Shady Spring boys track coach Joey Beckett said. "He just hasn't had time to build back his muscles. He has worked very hard. We are really proud of him.
"For somebody who wasn't supposed to run again, I think it's pretty impressive."
The adjustment certainly hasn't been easy. For Valentine, the hardest part has been not performing up to his standards. He was the Class AA state champion in the 400 as a freshman in 2018 and again in 2019, but was disqualified for a lane violation.
He knows it's within him to get back to that level.
"It's kind of hard on me, because I can't do what I know I can do from previous years," he said. "Some people don't know what happened and it's turned my speed down tremendously. But I'm dealing with it and doing the best that I can this year."
Winning can certainly make things feel a bit better, and Valentine has done that. He has been part of several relay wins, and he got his first individual victory in the 800 at the Nicholas County Invitational on May 11. He won with a time of 2:15.81 — and never ran the 800 again.
Three days later, he won the 400 at the Beckley Relays with a time of 54.15.
"I was down on myself and felt bad," Valentine said. "Then I got the victory and I had a spark of excitement."
That excitement will carry him and his teammates to Charleston. The Shady boys and girls won Region 3 championships last week and will be well represented on Friday.
"There's a lot of competition this year and I hope I can get a three-peat, but I'm just going to go in confident and do the best I can," Valentine said. "Whatever happens, happens."
Once it's over, Valentine's focus will turn to getting ready to run at Glenville State. He says he will take a week off, then hit everything full bore.
"It'll take time," he said, "but by the start of college season I should be 100 percent."