While the Stanford Invitational serves as an opportunity to rack up some fast times early in the outdoor season, for redshirt junior Mike Banks, it meant much more than that.

Exactly a year ago, running in the 3000 meter steeplechase in the Colonial Relays at William & Mary, Banks hit a barrier mid-race and went down hard. Dropping out of the race and collapsing on the infield, it was only when he had trouble walking off the track that he knew it was going to be serious.

With a diagnosis of an abdominal strain, he took 10 days off, planning to return quickly.

Yet upon coming back, things weren’t getting any better. While the trainers pondered over what it could be, Banks was told to take a full month off from training. Despite the grim outlook, he thought it was nothing more than a normal injury.

“The whole time, as each meet went by I kept hope that I’d be able to race, maybe the next week, maybe next week I’ll be alright, maybe I’ll get better, maybe I’ll still salvage some season,” Banks said.

Finally, when he was still plagued by pain even after a month away from running, he was sent to a sports hernia specialist in Philadelphia. The specialist told him that it was indeed a sports hernia and that surgery would be necessary.

Yet immediately after going under the knife – facing months of recovery time – Banks continued to only concentrate on making a full comeback.

“I just treated it as if it was another injury. I never made the injury seem like it was really serious just because I needed surgery,” he said. “I told myself it wasn’t as serious as it actually probably was, which helped me stay positive.”

The doctor ordered no physical activity, outside of walking, for two months. So walk he did. As the team went on long runs of 14-18 miles, Banks would suit up and go for two hour walks, trying anything to get his body ready to go.

“For runners, to go walking … it doesn’t make any sense. We were like `What is he doing?'” teammate Andrew Bumbalough said. “He wanted to be out there so bad, he wanted to get better, and so he was willing to do whatever it took to get back.”

So as the two months went on, he focused all his energy on what he was still allowed to do: physical therapy, walking and stretching. Still, for an avid track runner, having to take the role of spectator during practices and workouts was discouraging.

“It was extremely hard. It’s very frustrating watching your teammates out there racing, doing well, and knowing that’s where you should be,” Banks said. “Just not being able to run is kind of like torture. It’s kind of like `What do I do every day?’ You just wake up and you’re just kind of lost.”

Yet with the encouragement of teammates and coaches, he stayed focused and began making some strides. Head Coach Patrick Henner sought him out nearly every day, in order to keep him motivated.

Banks said teammates would get excited as well, always yelling “Alright! Banks is running again! He’s doing a workout!” as they would pass by.

Soon it became apparent that he was going to make a full recovery, and Banks began to get more excited with every new step he took.

He held out hope for jumping in at the end of the cross country season, but coaches and trainers decided to make him wait until indoor track for his comeback.

Finally in racing shape again, he went on to have a solid season, running as a part of the 4×800 team that took first in the Big East, and the distance medley relay team that took fifth at nationals.

Even though the Stanford Invitational wasn’t the first meet back for Banks, it was one he had anxiously looked forward to. Banks was slated to run the race that had doomed him a year ago – the 3000m steeplechase. And this time, there were no barriers that tripped him up, as he went on to run a solid race, turning in a 9:03.54 NCAA regional qualifying time that was good enough for 14th.

“It was kind of special. It felt really good. I didn’t run a really great race or anything … but what made the whole weekend better was that I finished the race, I finished the steeple,” Banks said. “Just knowing that I finally conquered that race, getting to the finish line, getting that regional qualifier, it was a great feeling.”

Now that he has the steeplechase under his belt (it was his first time finishing the race) Banks said he is looking forward to helping out the team by making up for the valuable time he lost.

“I really want the team to be competing for a title at Big Easts. I’m hoping that we can get a bunch of guys top at the NCAA meet, score some points, finish fairly high as a team – definitely top 25 – and I’d really like to be a part of that,” Banks said.

With those lofty goals in mind and having been removed from the sport for so long, the redshirt junior now has a greater appreciation for the chance to go out there and compete with a sense of urgency about him.

“Really one of the biggest things I’ve focused on the past year and a half is just having fun competing and just enjoying myself when I’m racing,” he said. “Every race I feel like I’m kind of lucky to be toeing the line. I’ve got to take advantage of every competitive opportunity that I get.”

Hoya Notes:

– Junior Andrew Bumbalough had a great performance in the 5000m at Stanford, coming up just a little short down the stretch to finish second in an NCAA regional qualifying time of 13:41.47. With a quality time in the 5000m, Bumbalough now has the liberty of choosing between the 1500m or the 5K for the postseason.

“That’s a big PR for me. I think that it bodes well for the rest of the season,” he said.

– Redshirt junior Dan Nunn, and redshirt sophomore Mike Krisch both turned in excellent times in the 10,000m. Nunn’s 28:51.96 stands third best in Georgetown history, and Krisch ran well with a time of 29:10.13.

– The women’s mid-distance squad was solid at the Colonial Relays, dominating the 800m with four Hoyas in the top six.

“Right now our middle-distance girls are pretty much as a team effort leading the charge, the heart and soul of our team just revolves around the 800, 1500m girls,” Head Coach Patrick Henner said.

– Senior Matt Debole, taking fourth in the 1500m, junior Alex Mason in the 3000m steeplechase, and senior Melissa Grelli, taking seventh in the 10,000m, all posted NCAA regional qualifying times in strong efforts.

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