CHAMPAIGN — Sade' Oladipupo thought she could fight through it.
Oladipupo, a junior at St. Teresa, was putting up good numbers last season as a sophomore, but her right foot hurt.
She jumped 17 feet, 2 inches in the long jump on April 11 as a sophomore at St. Teresa. Two days after that, on April 13, she set a personal record in the 200-meter dash with a time of 26.84 seconds.
But then on April 21 in Rockford, the pain was too much. She ran her races but broke down in tears afterwards. Doctors told her she had a stress fracture in her right foot. A second opinion in Chicago confirmed it.
Her season was over; just before the Central Illinois Conference track meet, just before sectionals and just before the Class 1A state meet, where the Bulldogs finished third as a team behind a huge day from DaeLin Switzer.
She quickly went from someone who was primed to be a key contributor at state to someone who was relegated to watch from afar.
“I was happy for my teammates and seeing other people do the events that I got to do, but it was hard watching other people do what I love," Oladipupo said.
This season, her junior year, was supposed to be a fresh start. But in the first indoor meet at Mount Zion, she suffered a partial tear of her right quadriceps. Again, she fought through it and ran a few indoor meets after that, but the injury ultimately cost her the first half of the outdoor season.
She returned on April 23 at the Macon County Meet, which the Bulldogs won. At last week's CIC track meet, she jumped a 17-2 in the long jump in rainy, cold conditions. On Thursday, she'll run and jump in the girls Class 1A Assumption (Central A&M) Sectional with a shot at advancing to Charleston this year after missing out last season.
"It looks like she’s kind of starting to round into form a little bit," St. Teresa girls track coach Todd Vohland said. "(The injuries) certainly hurt her progression some. If there’s a benefit, she should be on pretty rested legs come sectional time."
In the offseason, Oladipupo worked to get faster and stronger. The path back to her personal best in the long jump of 17-6.75 has been arduous. Earlier this season, she was jumping in the 16s and was frustrated. That wasn't her, but she knew the steps back to where she was before the injury was a process.
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"I was getting so upset and I had to calm down and realize it will come," she said.
She put in the work. Vohland saw it and her teammates saw it.
“She is such a hard worker in everything that she does," Switzer said. "She loves track as much as all of us do and she works so hard. She really has worked to get where she is and to get the marks and the times that she’s been getting."
Obviously Oladipupo wants to go to state for the first time and to help the Bulldogs as a team. But she also wants to pass her sister Kite Oladipopo's school record in the long jump of 17-8, which happened at the CIC meet in 2016.
Last year, Sade' looked to be on the cusp. In the first indoor meet of the year she jumped 17-6.75 and was knocking on the door of achieving family braggin' rights. The 17-2 last week at the conference meet was a step in the right direction. But the "what-if" game pops into her mind from time to time.
"If I didn’t get injured, I could have gotten that last year," Sade' said.
The injury did more than slow her down in the long jump. She was coming off of a strong 200-meter dash and was part of a 4x200-meter relay team that looked like a force to be reckoned with at state.
"That was a tough hit," Vohland said. "How she was jumping ... she got second at the Top Times Meet last year. I know she was looking for some big things a outdoor and that came to a little bit of a crashing halt."
The times in the running events are a work in progress, but Vohland hasn't seen that slow down Oladipupo. With all hope, the closing stretch of this season will propel her to a healthy, successful junior year.
Perhaps even with a school record in tow, taking the crown from Kite.
“We’re looking forward to what she can do," Vohland said. "Hopefully she has a good meet at sectionals and can compete well at state. Again, hopefully next year we can be looking back at the season and saying, ‘She had a healthy season and was able to compete to the best of her abilities.’"