March 22, 2013
By Noriah Williams, Michigan State Athletic Communications
Being an elite track & field athlete comes with considerable ups and downs, from school records and personal bests to bad races and injuries. For redshirt senior Amelia Bannister, the experience has been especially unique.
“I’ve been doing this forever,” said Bannister. “It’s helped me grow not just athletically, but as a person. I’ve got to experience so many things with track that I probably would not have gotten to without it. And the best part is it did get me to school. It was a direction towards college. It always gave me a upper hand to be like, ‘I can succeed and go farther than what I thought I could do.’”
Attending Albion High School in Albion, Mich., Bannister won an impressive 10 state championships during her high school career and entered Michigan State with high expectations. Looking to use her talents to help the Spartans, an unfortunate circumstance put a temporary hold on her plans.
“Freshmen year, I was really excited for the training; to be apart of the team,” Bannister said. “My team in high school was really small so I wasn’t used to having a girl’s team and a support system. I was so pumped and ready to go.”
After returning to school early from Christmas break in 2010, she began experiencing crippling stomach pains. A week and half stay in the hospital resulted in the diagnoses of chronic pancreatitis.
“It was the first time I was not running in my life,” said Bannister. “I’d never missed a season or a practice and I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do. It had always been you go to school and you go to practice. Without practicing, it was like I was missing a big piece of my life. I got to see everyone else travel on the weekends, I got to see everybody else do what I couldn’t do and what I’d been working so hard for.”
Nonetheless, Bannister’s resilience did not allow her love of the sport to waver, instead using the time off to rejuvenate both her body and mind.
“It just inspired me to get back and get ready for the outdoor season, which was still rough since I’d missed so much of indoor,” Bannister said. “I had to work double the time to come back only to come and be able to run at Big Tens and regionals. I was happy I could do what I could for my team, but it was sad not being able to do individual races. I was just happy to be able to help my team where I was needed.”
The Spartan sprinter has never competed in two consecutive seasons throughout her career at Michigan State, but has managed to compile a notable list of accomplishments.
Though she did not participate in the indoor season her freshmen year, she was a member of the outdoor regional qualifying 4x100-meter relay in 2010. Bannister placed third at the 2011 Big Ten Indoor Championships in the 600-meter run and anchored the fifth-place 4x400-meter relay her sophomore year. She also helped set a school record in the distance medley relay before a strained IT (lliotibial) band made her unable to compete during the outdoor season.
Her junior year she scored again at the 2012 Big Ten Indoor Championships, placing fourth in the 600-meter run, but could not compete in the outdoor season due to her pancreatitis. A ganglionic cyst and stress reaction in her right foot forced Bannister to again miss the indoor season in 2013.
Sprint, hurdle and assistant coach Randy Gillon recognizes the bad luck of persistent injuries and the frustrations his athletes feel when they aren’t able to contribute in the capacity they are capable of.
“Everyone comes to college with great aspirations and a hope of doing great things and to see an athlete not have that opportunity to really see it through is frustrating,” said Gillon. “We all have dreams and hopes. We all have aspirations. We all want to be the best at whatever we do. So for her body to not allow her to do that, it’s tough. All we can do is support her and hopefully we can turn things around this season.”
Bannister learned not to take for granted even the smallest of achievements, taking the good out of days she could bike or swim for rehabilitation.
“Sitting out takes a toll on you mentally,” said Bannister. “I was discouraged to say the least. To stay motivated you just have to think of the bigger picture. So with your teammates, it helped when they asked you when you could run again, said they’re excited to have you back. Just hearing people say they want you and need you back, that helps a lot and it’s very much appreciated.”
Despite her rocky career, Bannister was voted captain of the sprinters her junior year. It was a position she relished, leading the teammates who encouraged her through the rough patches.
“It’s nice to know that they understand and can accept that you are injured and that sitting out is what you have to do to be better,” Bannister said. “It’s who you fight with everyday, who you practice with. You encourage each other during workouts and when you’re struggling. We do everything together, that’s your family.”
The growing team dynamic of MSU’s track & field program has helped propel it to be a force within the conference and the nation. As Bannister sets to begin her fourth season this spring, her anticipation comes with high goals.
“My hope for the outdoor season is to be top-three in the Big Ten, run on our amazing 4x400-meter relay, be at least a regional qualifier and go all the way to nationals. But competing at Big Tens is probably my biggest goal, because that’s where we really come to together as a team, where you really lay it all down. Being at Big Ten’s and accomplishing something that everyone can witness and see, that’s what I’d love to do. To score points, hearing your team as you come around the track, there’s no greater feeling than that.”