Walking away as an athlete isn't easy.
Ashland University junior sprinter/hurdler Haley Gregory, however, wasn't going to allow a third career foot injury to end her time on the track.
Roughly 10 months after suffering her latest injury, Gregory successfully returned to the track on Dec. 3 at the Tiffin Alumni Open and earned two provisional-entry marks for 2017 NCAA Division II indoor nationals – 7.68 seconds in the 60-meter dash and 8.71 seconds in the 60 hurdles.
"It was a bit of surprise to me, just because I had no idea where I would be," Gregory said, "because last season, I ran some decent times, but never really ran to my full potential. So I had no idea what the start to the season was going to bring. But seeing those times at the very first meet was incredible."
Ashland sprints/hurdles coach Ernie Clark said, "She told me similar goals before we ever walked out there. Before we arrived at that meet, I knew she was going to have a big day. It didn't surprise me. It was very exciting."
Gregory, who shares the Ashland freshman women's indoor record in the 60 dash at 7.79 seconds, seemingly has made up for lost time from a year ago. Her injury caused her to miss the remainder of the 2015-16 indoor season and the entirety of the 2016 outdoor campaign.
Prior to 2016, Gregory's other foot injuries came during her prep career at John Glenn High School – one as a junior at the state meet and one as a senior at the district meet. Given that those three maladies happened so close together, did Gregory consider giving up the sport at any point last year?
"The thought did cross my mind," she admitted. "It was tough having to go through it again, just kind of wondering why I couldn't have a full season. Each time, it's motivated me more and more. When I went home for summer break, people who heard about my injury said, 'Oh, so are you done?' It has been a big motivator for me. It's really made me a lot smarter about being able to handle my body.
"(Head coach) Jud (Logan), especially, was really positive about it. He was like, 'Aw, cool, we can have you for five years now,' so that was really encouraging."
Clark said, "I never had those thoughts (of her quitting), but I know that being injured, especially when you're a hard-worker with high goals, when you get halted and halted, you start to think, 'Is it worth it?' It just sucks everything out of you.
"I knew she was down, but she did a good job of showing up every day and asking questions…all these different things."
As for the immediate future, there are seven weekends of meets prior to the 2017 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, and two months until the 2017 D-II indoor nationals in Birmingham, Ala.
"Those (provisional times) are times now that I am reaching to beat," said Gregory. "I'm not battling back anymore. So I'm already ahead of where I was last year. It's a great feeling knowing that, because of the injury, I didn't regress in any way. Now, I can just continue to use the injury as a motivator."
Clark didn't hesitate when asked if Gregory can go from injured to indoor nationals in a year's time.
"It's very realistic," he said.