But an injured leg slows down junior

Independence junior Kathy Kroeger ran away with the past two Class AAA cross country state titles, but she hit a glitch in her plans for title No. 3.    She got hurt.   

Kathy Kroeger of Independence is trying to rebound from a stress fracture in her left leg. (JEANNE REASONOVER/THE TENNESSEAN)

Kroeger's health will be the biggest question mark entering the high school cross country season, which officially starts Monday. It was the talk of the track and field season when she did not run in order to put on 20 pounds due to doctor's orders.

And it will again be talked about during the cross country season after a stress fracture in her left leg slowed down her preseason training.

Every year winning hasn't been easy, Kroeger said. But this season is really going to be hard after the setback (with my leg). I kind of feel like I'm starting back from scratch.

Kroeger said she was on crutches for three weeks before getting rid of them last week and planned on restarting training, cautiously, this weekend.

She is one of the best patients ever, Independence Coach Kristen Reames said. We'll let her build herself back up. We're going to do a lot of training in the pool. We'll then get her on some soft surfaces.

Knowing Kathy, I don't think it will be that that big of a deal after the first couple of meets she is back.

Dominance started early

Kroeger burst onto the high school cross country scene as a freshman, dominating races. She won the 2005 meet with a time of 17 minutes, 31.26 seconds - more than 37 seconds faster than the second-place finisher. Last year she won with a time of 16:59.45 and was more than a minute faster than second place.

She later went on to win the Foot Locker cross country national championship.

But Kroeger, who won the 1,600 and 3,200 races at the Class AAA state track and field meet as a freshman, followed the win up by not participating in track and field last season due to health concerns regarding her weight, which was 85 pounds.

She said she now weighs 105 pounds and was cleared to start running again on May 1. But a month ago her left leg began hurting.

At first I just took some days off, Kroeger said. It still hurt so I ended up going to the doctor, who discovered a stress fracture. That was kind of a letdown, but now I'm excited to be running again.

Kroeger insisted that while winning a third straight state title is a goal, she wants her teammates to again join her at the state meet.

Independence placed 15th in last year's meet.

It was so much fun last year getting there with the whole team and Josh Helton on the boys team, she said. This year I hope the girls and all the guys get there.