LEWISTON - Emily Adams has been one of the anchors of the Lewis-Clark State Women’s Cross Country team for the last three years. A cross country All-American in 2018, Adams was focused on repeating in 2019 before setting similar goals on the track. Just 200 meters from the finish line at the Frontier Conference Championships, the junior collapsed before managing to crawl across the finish line. Her fiancé was there to grab her out of the way as runners continued to pour in. In dramatic fashion, Adams produced an All-Frontier Conference finish at eighth overall.
It was a month before doctors determined the cause of the fainting to be a complex temporal seizure. Adams was sidelined for almost two weeks before being cleared to run at nationals. Though she did not repeat as an All-American in cross country, she was the top LC finisher and helped lead the Warriors to an 18th-place finish, nine spots ahead of their No. 27 seeding.
Adams worked day-in and day-out to get ready for the indoor season with a shot at the 3,000m on her mind. She qualified as the second-lowest seed in the race, but as soon as the gun went off the seeding went out the window. Adams hung back before making her move to the lead pack in the final turn and set a career-best time of 10:10.62 to place third in her heat. Her time in the prelims was fifth-best overall and she advanced to the finals.
In true Warrior fashion, Adams was not done yet. She followed the same game plan and hung back at the start of the race to size up the competition. With one lap to go she sat ninth in the group before surging with the group. She credits a split-second decision to find the last burst of energy to push her into third place. Not bad for a runner who was seeded 24th out of 25 runners.
Adams answered some questions about her year and everything she went through.
Q: How was the morning before the conference championship race started?
A: I had the normal nerves that come on race day, but nothing some deep breathing exercises couldn’t fix. Since we didn’t race until the afternoon I was able to do some homework in the hotel before we left so I was relaxed and ready to go. The night before we had a team meeting with the coaches where we went over the game plan that had been created. We all knew which girls to stick with and where we needed to be individually so we could win the team title. Coach and I talked about my chance of winning the individual title periodically throughout the season, so that morning while doing homework I was visualizing what I needed to do to achieve that.
Q: How was the race going before nearing the end?
A: The race was going well. All the leaders had the same mindset of not taking the pace out hard as the entire field was still bunched up through the first mile. We didn’t start to break up until the second half of the race with the lead pack creating a gap on the rest of the field. I had been sitting on the heels of the four leaders, letting them take the wind and do the pacing for me. I felt calm, cool and collected until about 1200 meters left when normal race fatigue began to set in.
Q: When did things start to feel off?
A: My parents and fiancé were at the two-mile marker when I came through. According to them, I was looking pretty pale and not like myself. I remember feeling tired at this point, but it felt like normal fatigue that happens in a race. I would say the last 1200 meters (3/4 of mile) of the race was when things started to feel off. By this point I had lost contact with the lead group and was trying hard to keep moving forward. With 800 meters (half mile) left was when my vision began to get fuzzy and I knew something wasn’t right, but I wasn’t going to stop.
Q: What happened next?
A: The final 400 meters of that race was a straight shot into the finish. As I was rounding the final curve, I tried to build a kick, but my legs weren’t responding. I remember somewhat panicking and thinking ‘This isn’t good!’ I remember hearing the crowd shouting, but words weren’t processing. I assume it was yelling that other runners were approaching me as a girl passed me. I remember trying to go with her but suddenly it felt like my legs disappeared and I was on the ground. I want to say I popped up right away, but I’m not entirely sure. Once on my feet, I pushed forward towards the finish but was getting nothing in return in terms of speed. I could still hear people yelling at me but couldn’t make out words. Although I was moving towards the finish line, it felt as though it kept getting farther and farther away, just like in the cartoons.
Q: What happened when you crossed the finish line?
A: About 10 meters from the finish I hit the ground again. I remember looking through my legs as I tried to stand and saw two girls coming fast. Watching the video of the finish I could see myself stumble and end up diving across the line, falling (and not being able to get up) for the third time. I believe I was able to beat one girl by a tenth of a second. My fiancé had to literally drag me off the finish line where my mom and dad were on the sidelines. I remember that all I wanted to do was sleep and I believe I drifted off a few different times. Everywhere on my body ached, even opening my eyes felt excruciating and my head felt like it was going to explode. My parents, fiancé, coach, and some medical staff were with me. At some point they tried to get some electrolytes into me, but I kept trying to sleep. Finally, after about 30 minutes I was able to stand but needed support. I had to take breaks when walking around afterwards due to feeling exhausted. During awards I was very hazy and still in a lot of pain.
Our team drove back to Lewiston that night and the entire ride home I was puking and unable to keep down food. For about 72 hours afterwards food was hard to keep down. Saltine crackers, soup, and Body Armour became my best friends! The next couple days my body felt as though a freight train had ran me over; even my arms and shoulders were sore and tight. I tried to run two days after conference but could barely make it 20 minutes.
Q: What changed for you over the next weeks/months?
A: After talking with Tracy Collins (Head Athletic Trainer), we decided to get a blood iron test to rule out low levels. While at Student Health Services, April Christensen (the nurse at SHS) decided to do an EKG. The results were sent to an internal medicine doctor and local cardiologist who both believed there was something wrong. The words hypertrophic cardiomyopathy were mentioned. I was given orders to halt all exercise and to not get my heartrate above 80 bpm. That had to have been the biggest challenge as walking up a flight of stairs can cause an elevated heart rate. Thanks to having a strong support team and the urgency of nationals the next week, I was able to get into a cardiologist in Pullman. I had more EKG’s, a 48-hour heart monitor, brain MRI and a Bruce protocol stress test with ultrasounds (really neat getting to see your own heart pump blood!). Thankfully, the doctors did not find what they originally believed and medically cleared me to run again 10 days after conference. I was given a 14-day heart monitor that I wore at cross country nationals, and a strong recommendation to go see a neurologist. After getting the diagnosis from the neurologist, I have had to document everything related to seizures (déjà vu, fluttering heart, and other signs). Currently I am not taking anti-epileptic medication, but if I do have another episode then I need to be on it.
Q: What and who helped get you through this?
A: Everyone involved was the best. My parents, fiancé, athletic trainers Tracy and Taryn, Coach Collins, Sam Atkin, Cyrus Hall, the girl’s team and guys were all there for me. When I first got the news, I went straight to Tracy as directed. As soon as I walked into the training room she stopped what she was doing and gave me the biggest hug ever. She took me into her office and calmed me down, talking to me about a game plan to get into a cardiologist right away. My parents and fiancé came to stay with me for a few days, going to my appointments with me in Pullman and getting insurance to listen.
My teammates made me a gift basket which made me cry happy tears. I think the biggest thing that got me through was seeing how many people were rooting for me in a time where I felt like I was at rock bottom. Despite being told I may have to end my running career, those around me never gave up on me. Although originally being told nationals was a no-go for me, I didn’t give up hope on getting to finish my season, which I was able to do.
Q: How did the regular season indoor meets go?
A: The indoor season went great! Each time I ran the 3K I was able to PR or match my time from the previous meet. At all the meets we went to we ran against D1 schools which gave us good competition. At the first Boise meet I was entered in both 5K and 3K. During the 5K on Friday, I started to experience symptoms mid-race similar to what happened at conference, so I dropped out. At first I was nervous that the rest of the meet was going to be affected by this, but it did nothing but fuel the fire for wanting to qualify. The next day I hit the B standard in the 3,000m.
Q: How did you feel about your seeding at nationals?
A: Excited is the first thing that comes to mind. It was the first time I had qualified individually for indoor nationals, so knowing I did it by myself was a great feeling, especially after what happened in cross country. I didn’t have too high of expectations for myself going into prelims. My only goals were to PR, finish higher than what I came in the rankings and to not get lapped. Oh, and of course, have fun!
Q: Talk about nationals and the feeling of finishing where you did, both in the prelims and the finals.
A: Starting with prelims, I was very nervous on the line. My hands were shaking and I couldn’t stop fidgeting. Once that gun went off all those nerves left. I let the girls next to me take the lead and settled in behind them. Emily Kearney, the top seed, was in my heat and I think we all expected her to get out front and maintain enough distance to stay in first. Instead, she went out hard and took the group with her. I stuck to the back of the pack to get a feel for the pace and see what was going to happen.
Eventually, Kearney created a big enough gap leaving the group to settle down. At the line there was someone calling out splits, but mental math is not my thing, so the paces were not making sense. I had eventually worked my way up into the pack to a place I felt was still in the game. One of my goals of not getting lapped didn’t happen. Emily was an entire lap ahead of the pack and passed me right as she was finishing. Going through at one lap to go some girls surged and created a gap. I remember going with them but not being able to make up a lot of ground until entering the final turn. Rounding the turn into the home stretch I gave it all I had, managing to pass the rest of the pack except for one girl. Seeing the time on the clock surprised me a lot. Going 17 seconds faster than my previous time had not felt that hard. I was so shocked and very happy. I think Coach Collins can say the same thing!
I felt ready to go for finals the next day. Coach had talked to me about it, and we decided on goals of, again, having fun and knowing that I deserved to be there; that the day prior was not some freak thing. Again, nerves were soaring, but the second the gun went off everything disappeared. Kearney didn’t take the race out hard this time, but rather settled ahead of the pack to solidify first place. That left the 11 of us to jostle for the next seven All-American spots. Just as before, I stuck towards the back of the pack to see what the others did. There was a lot of jostling, elbowing and cutting others off in the tight pack. One girl, who was doing most of the elbowing and jostling, cut off another girl causing her to trip and fall in the middle of the group. She popped back up but stayed behind me (I talked with her afterwards and she had track rash on her leg and arm but was otherwise okay). Throughout the race I slowly moved up into the pack, just like in prelims.
Going through the line with one lap to go we were all still bunched up and I was back in ninth. Girls surged, and I went with. On the back stretch I was able to catch a few girls and make my final moves coming into the home stretch. A split-second decision right before the line granted me the capability to find a final gear and catch a girl right at the finish. The difference between third and fourth place was .12 seconds. It was really exciting seeing the results of the race. Knowing I could accomplish what I had just did after the ending to cross season I had was a proud moment. Coach Collins is not much of a hugger. We have a running joke (pun intended) on the girl’s team about how many times Coach hugs you while on the team. Usually it is side hug, so after I got two-arm hug from Coach after the finals I knew he was pretty proud and happy.
Q: How are you now and what is the focus?
A: I am all clear medically to run as I was and have been deemed healthy! Prior to the outbreak, Coach Collins and I sat down to come up with a plan on monitoring signs and symptoms to see if we could find a trigger for the seizures and how to prevent another. Since then I have been doing my best to follow our plan. Our focus now is to have a healthy summer that leads into my final cross country season, which will hopefully bring me another All-American finish!