Among the many incredible feats and record-setting performances at this year’s West Virginia high school track and field state championships, an inspiring accomplishment by Magnolia’s Lauren Cline ran under the radar to most spectators and competitors.
Cline, a senior, won the Class A girls 800-meter run in her lone individual event of the meet. The feat marked a great achievement on its own, but the path and pain Cline overcame to reach her goal, as she competes with reflex neurovascular dystrophy (RND), served as greater inspiration to athletes and non-athletes alike.
“It’s a disease that affects my nervous system, so it’s hard to do sports,” Cline said, “because my body physically doesn’t want to do any sports, and when your nervous system doesn’t work, a lot of you doesn’t work right.
“One of the things that happens during track season is I cough, and I cough until I puke, and you can always hear me coming, because I cough all the time. It’s a pain disorder.”
According to the website for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, “Reflex neurovascular dystrophy (RND) is a painful condition that leads to severe pain in the joints and muscles in children. The pain may be described as sharp, burning, achy, crampy, a pounding hammer, or cutting like a knife. The pain is caused by a nerve sensitivity whereby the nerves in the body send pain signals to the brain inappropriately.”
Cline’s mother Marcie Cline said the pain is the result of those interpreted signals between her daughter’s nervous system and brain.
“It’s an amplified pain syndrome because the nerves in her body (tell her brain) that almost anything is pain, and it just kind of shoots off,” Marcie Cline said. “Her body doesn’t know how to respond to stress, whether it’s physical, emotional, a cold. Any other thing, her body decides it’s going to be pain, and it’s not just pain, it’s amplified pain, so it’s like super pain.”
Lauren admitted the pain can be so severe she doesn’t like to touch other people.
RND is typically diagnosed at a young age and affects girls in higher numbers than boys, Marcie said. Lauren first experienced pain in her hands as an eighth grader before being diagnosed in her freshman year.
Vigorous activity such as running at state championship caliber might not seem suited for someone suffering with RND, but Lauren said it’s actually beneficial.
“There is no treatment,” Lauren said. “Exercise is what’s best for it, because your blood’s constricted with it, so actually track is extremely helpful for me. Even though it’s extremely hard on me, it’s really good for me. Anything that’s hard, aerobic exercise is good for me. That’s the treatment.”
Through her running, Lauren said she also lets out her daily frustrations, as she uses the sport as a vehicle to escape RND momentarily while she competes.
“Track is definitely the best sport for that,” she said. “You can go out there and do the best that you can do. If you know you did the best you can do every single time, you’re just happy. Track’s definitely the best sport. I can focus on the track and not focus on anything else.”
In addition to helping her condition by running at a high level, Lauren said she sees many specialists, including The Children’s Institute, in Pittsburgh, where she visits with medical professionals, including a rheumatologist.
Between trips to Pittsburgh, Lauren practiced through pain, inspiring others and even making an effort not to miss the team’s more important, difficult workouts, said Magnolia coach Steve Ross.
“Whenever you have someone who’s willing to go out there day-after-day and give the effort that she does even though you know that she’s hurting, and you know it’s not easy on her and yet day-in-day-out, there she is,” Ross said. “(She would say) ‘I’m going to miss practice today. I got to go see a specialist,’ but she always tended to schedule those on days it wasn’t going to be a real hard practice.”
Lauren’s efforts to be present at practice and give her all paid dividends as she capped her high school athletic career on Saturday. Though she has received several offers to extend her athletic opportunities at the collegiate level, she plans to pursue her goal of becoming a physical therapist to work with children, and she will begin that path by studying at West Virginia University.
So in her final high school competition, Lauren exceeded expectations, as she was predicted to finish fifth by www.runwv.com. She took the top spot in the 800 with a time of 2:29.37.
“It felt awesome,” Lauren said. “It was the best feeling ever.”
In addition to her individual win, Lauren also ran the opening leg of Magnolia’s fifth-place 4x800 relay.
On paper, a single individual event win and a fifth-place relay might not rank among the weekend’s top accomplishments, but to dig a little digger into the story and trials Lauren experienced along the way, it’s hard to find a more significant achievement. That message isn’t lost on Lauren.
“I hope it inspires a lot of people, because if you set your mind to it, you can do it and push through all your hard times,” she said. “I almost quit this year, but hey, I’m so glad I didn’t quit.
“Definitely, don’t give up. Obviously, I didn’t give up and I made it here, so it’s great.”