Susannah Scaroni was just about two weeks removed from the best race of her life.

After securing a gold medal, and nearly a world record, at the Tokyo Paralympics, Scaroni set out one morning last September in Champaign, Illinois. After parking at a practice facility at the University of Illinois and transferring into her racing chair, Scaroni took off on her normal training route.

Suddenly, Scaroni felt a ton of pressure coming from behind her.

“I just felt myself getting pushed forward really quickly,” Scaroni told Yahoo Sports. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I just remember thinking this is going to be really bad, because I could tell I was getting hit by a car.”

The next thing she knew, Scaroni was out of her racing chair and on the ground.

“There was a car stopped up ahead of me and there was a guy coming forward,” Scaroni said. “So I could tell what had happened, but I was definitely in some shock.

“Everything was hurting and there was a lot of pressure.”

Scaroni said that the driver couldn’t see her or the flag attached to the back of her racing chair through the glare of the sun that morning.

The damage, though, was done. Scaroni sustained a burst fracture of her T8 vertebrae.”>View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Susannah Scaroni (@suscaroni)

“I had no idea what it would mean for my back, and for how my daily life activities would be impacted,” she said. “I was in pain, I was definitely in pain in the hospital.”

A late WD from New York City Half Marathon

Following the crash, Scaroni spent the next four months in a back brace that limited most, if not all, of her upper-body movement. She trained her arms a bit and did a little pool work during that time, but that was about it.

Finally in mid-January, Scaroni started training in her chair again at the University of Illinois’ practice facility, thanks to special rollers the school has in the basement that allow her to ride in her chair in place.

It wasn’t until Saturday that Scaroni actually even got back out on the road again to practice outside. Though that timing isn’t unusual due to the weather in Central Illinois, Scaroni was still a bit uneasy before her first run back.

“Before we went out, I was kind of nervous, honestly. I kind of got emotional, which was weird. I wasn’t really expecting that,” she said. “But Saturday morning, I’ll be perfectly honest, I felt fine psychologically.

“I think that the billions of times that I have trained outside and had a great time, my mind went there versus Sept. 16, the one time. I felt great outside, it was so nice to be out there. It definitely gave me a lot more confidence about training and racing outside, because I had a good day.”

While she is still dealing with a bit of pain and soreness in her back, Scaroni is starting to get back into her sport. Her first major test was going to be on Sunday at the New York City Half Marathon — which she was excited to go into worry-free and without any sort of time goal.

Just finishing and seeing where her body is at is the only goal.

“I would say I’m ready, I guess psychologically, ready to get back, I think,” she said. “Physically, we’ll see. That’s kind of the interesting part that’s up in the air. I am at least excited to try and give it the best I can.”

Yet on Friday, Scaroni had to pull out of the race at the last second. She had been exposed to and tested positive for COVID-19.

1/2 I was recently exposed to Covid-19. To be safe, I took a pcr test yesterday which unfortunately came back positive last night. Heart broken to have to pull out of the #UnitedNYCHalf this weekend.

— Susannah Scaroni (@KenyanScaroni) March 18, 2022

Thank you so much @nyrr for inviting me to have the #unitednychalf be my first race back! Will definitely miss being out there!

— Susannah Scaroni (@KenyanScaroni) March 18, 2022

Scaroni nearly sets world record in Tokyo

Scaroni never had a goal of making the United States Paralympic team.

Her competing in sports at all is thanks largely to her mom, who sort of dragged her to a wheelchair basketball practice in Spokane, Washington, when she was in fourth grade. They had learned about the league through the children’s hospital she was in, and her mom didn’t hesitate to sign her up.

"I wasn’t sure, but then my mom was like, ‘OK, great, we’ll be there,’” Scaroni said. “That was my first basketball practice, my first time ever seeing other kids in wheelchairs and my first time playing sports on an even playing field. … Playing wheelchair basketball was insane, I had no idea it could ever be like that, because it was equal.”

From that moment on, Scaroni was hooked. She didn’t think twice about joining their racing team when track practice started that spring, and then stuck with the sport through high school.

Scaroni wanted to compete collegiately at Illinois, but out-of-state tuition was far too high for her and her family to justify at the time. So, she went to a school in Montana for two years instead.

Her racing chair, naturally, came with her. She kept training on her own, just for fun.

In 2011, when she was a sophomore, Illinois reached back out with a scholarship. So Scaroni made the move across the country, and her career took off almost instantly.

She did her first marathon that fall in Chicago, and her time qualified her for the Boston Marathon. Her coaches realized that her times were good enough for her to try to compete nationally, and the next thing she knew she had made the U.S. Paralympic team for the 2012 Olympics in London.

She finished eighth in the marathon T54 — a classification that includes athletes who use a wheelchair to compete in track events and have "full upper muscle power in the arms" and some muscle power in their trunk, per the International Paralympic Committee — in the Games that year, and then took seventh in Brazil four years later. It was that first Olympics, she said, that really set off her professional career — something she never imagined was even a possibility.

It was in Tokyo, however, where things changed. During the 5,000-meter T54 final last summer, Scaroni suddenly found herself so far ahead of the rest of the field. That, she thought in the middle of the race, couldn’t be right.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘They’re going to catch me and it’s just going to be embarrassing,’” she said. “So I was just trying not to kill myself and I was trying to be conservative so that when they catch up to me I wasn’t going to be passed by everyone.”

But instead of being so far behind, Scaroni finished with a winning time of 10:52.57 — which beat the previous Paralympic record by nearly a full minute. She was just one second shy of the world record, too.

“I was so grateful that I didn’t wait back in kind of a slower race,” she said. “I was able to just do my best and go the pace that I wanted to go, and when you’re in the front you get to dictate the pace … I was just so happy that that happened, and shocked.

“Still to this day I have some regret though because I was one second off the world record and I could have made that if I knew my speeds. … I feel proud that I almost hit the world record because it tells me that it’s not just that they were maybe having a slower race but I was actually going faster than I’ve ever gone before, too.”

Focusing on the future, Paris 2024

There is still plenty Scaroni hopes to accomplish in the sport before she retires. The 30-year-old is even eying a trip to her fourth Paralympics in Paris in 2024.

Obviously, getting hit by a car was never in her plans — which she knows will make getting back to the place she was at in Tokyo that much harder.

“There is that motivation like, you’ve experienced it. I would love to get back to that,” she said. "But at the same time, I understand that there’s been things outside of my control that happened. So to me just getting to be the best that I can be and to be healthy, that is more important to me. I’m happy to do that and grateful I had what did happen in Tokyo.”

Even though she won't get to race through Brooklyn and Manhattan on Sunday after all, Scaroni clearly knows how to overcome adversity. Her latest setback shouldn't slow her down too much.

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