Armes has to pace himself on, off course
Kubasaki Dragons sophomore and reigning island and Far East cross-country champion Erik Armes limbers up before a practice at Camp Foster, Okinawa. Visible on Armes' right leg is a compression sleeve to help him continue rehabilitating from a stress fracture suffered last spring.
Stars and Stripes
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Erik Armes looked like his dominant self in April’s Mike Petty Memorial Track and Field Meet, winning the 800-, 1,500- and 3,000-meter runs, the latter in meet-record time and the former by just a hair.
But something was wrong, and Kubasaki’s reigning Far East cross-country champion could sense it when he gazed down at what looked like a lump in his lower right leg. Plenty of pain, too. Thinking it was a pulled muscle, he brought it to his mother, Karla, who tried rubbing it out … but it got worse.
Days later, after visits to his primary-care doctor and a couple of opinions from specialists, Armes, his coaches and family faced facts that they would have rather not faced: Erik suffered a stress fracture. Each gave an emphatic no when asked if Erik could complete his freshman track season.
Months later, after plenty of water running, stationary bike-riding and a walk-run rehab program, he’s returned to cross country, but still not quite 100 percent of the way back. He won his first race on Sept. 5 at Kadena, but with a compression sleeve on his right leg and his mind filled with conflict.
“I can tell the muscles aren’t there yet,” Armes said. “When I hit those hills, it was hard to get a good bounce or push off the right leg. The left leg is still the dominant one.”
Returning to competition was a huge relief, Armes and parents say, for a young man who first competed in distance events in the second grade. Karla and her husband, Stephen, a Marine lieutenant colonel, also compete in triathlon-style events, and Erik Armes didn’t need prodding to follow in their footsteps.
Armes, who one day hopes to be an Olympic triathloner, is the type who can’t stop training any more than he can stop breathing, teammates say.
It’s a delicate balance, according to a military physician, for those who want to push to the limit a body that’s still growing.
“Overtraining leads to excessive damage and, without appropriate time to repair, it can lead to long-term injury,” said Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Emeka O. Ofobike Jr., head of orthopaedic surgery at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. He is not familiar with Armes’ case and was speaking about young athletes in general.
Overtraining can cause muscle and tendon strains and bony stress injuries such as the one Armes suffered. “Coaches and parents need to be cognizant of the fact that growing bodies often lack the coordination, muscular strength and durability needed for intense, prolonged athletic training,” Ofobike said.
The thought of missing Far East devastated Armes. “I was miserable; I was not a happy person to be around,” he said. He’d thought, he said, that he’d be down for maybe two weeks and be able to run at Far East last May at Yokota. “It didn’t occur to me it would blow out the rest of my track season.”
But rest he had to, and with his parents’ help, he came to terms with it.
“Once Erik adapted his mind that he’d hurt himself more if he continued, it wasn’t difficult” for him to stop, Karla Armes said. “It took focusing him on the future and not the immediate. The negatives of if he was to injure himself worse, and constantly remind him that he’s 15.”
There’s also that possibility of running triathlon in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, one of Armes’ stated goals. “I would rather qualify for the Olympics than worry about a high school meet” and aggravate the injury, Erik said.
Did, in fact, Armes overdo it? He doesn’t feel he did, nor does mother.
“He wasn’t doing much more than he had been” when the injury happened, Karla Armes said. “Was it the surface? Was it the intensity? It’s anybody’s guess. He’s an intense athlete. I don’t believe he overtrains. It’s his own drive.”
His cross-country coach Paul Campbell says he’s more concerned with ensuring Armes is healthy, rather than pushing him to get a second straight Far East team title and Armes a second straight Far East gold medal at the expense of his health.
“I’m not here to win at the cost of somebody’s leg,” Campbell said. “I’m here to improve athletes, to help him reach the next level and he’s here to improve. It pains me that he’s going through that.”
Campbell’s keeping a close eye on Armes, giving him leniency on some drills that might aggravate the leg. “He’s reining himself in; he’s very good at knowing what his limits are,” Campbell said, adding that the only worry is what Armes does outside of practice “because he doesn’t stop. I hope he’s being wise.”
The lessons learned last spring should keep Armes all the wiser, he said after practice on Monday. “I think about how if I had run Far East last spring, I’d have snapped my leg and not be running at all.”