OPRF’s Josephine Welin returned for her first races of the fall in mid-September after nursing a stress fracture she picked up running at the Illinois Meet of Champions in late June. | Courtesy of Paul Nickoley

Oak Park and River Forest senior Josephine Welin completed the Palatine Invitational Saturday, walked roughly 60 yards behind the finish area and sat in the grass.

Welin was exhausted and slightly nauseous from taking medication for sinus issues.

Actually, it was a satisfying feeling.

“It feels really good to finally push myself really hard,” Welin said. “I kind of like feeling that really tired feeling. Honestly, I’m just glad to be able to push myself again.”  

Welin is working back from a stress fracture, yet she’s already is running faster than at this same time in 2020, when she emerged as the top girls runner in the state.

Welin (16 minutes, 56.9 seconds for 3.0 miles) was second to Lake Zurich’s Brooke Johnston (16:53.6) on Sept. 25 after making her season debut on Sept. 18 with a second-place finish (16:40.9) at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, where the Huskies hope to compete at the IHSA Class 3A state meet Nov. 6.

After cross-training through the summer, Welin has run five times each of the past two weeks.

“I think just proving to myself that even despite not feeling well and not running very much, I can still push myself and do well. [It] makes me feel excited for what the rest of my season has,” Welin said.

“I definitely feet fit. I’ve been on the bike and in the pool but it’s not the same thing as running fitness. I feel like I will be ready when it’s time to be ready.”

The Huskies also have high hopes after their strongest team in school history was limited by COVID-19 restrictions, which included no 2020 IHSA state meet. Senior Samantha Duwe, junior Avery Minnis and sophomore Lenny Sterritt also return from that postseason lineup.

“[Welin is] almost back up to full volume, listening to her body and trusting the process that’s she’s going to get there by the end of the year,” OPRF coach Ashley Raymond said.

“In general, she’s always paying attention to the details, and her recovery has gone smoothly. Even her physical therapist [said], ‘She did everything I told her.’ That’s pretty rare just for people in general.”

Welin comfortably won last year’s IHSA sectional and the non-sanctioned, invite-only ShaZam Championships last November with course-record times. At the IHSA Class 3A girls state track meet June 12, Welin won the 3,200-meter run (10:36.6) and was second in the 1,600 (4:42.55).

By the Illinois Meet of Champions June 20, Welin ran another great, but unfortunately painful 3,200 (10:03.72) for second.

Welin had developed a stress fracture in the third metatarsal of her left foot.

“After the race, I couldn’t walk,” Welin said. “We determined it was the [Nike] spikes I was wearing, the carbon fiber plate and the way I was landing on my foot. I tied them really tight and kind of pushed past the discomfort of wearing them. It’s OK, learned my lesson.”

Returning to running in mid-August, Welin planned to make her competitive debut at Detweiller. Welin’s 16:40.9 was second to Class 2A Latin senior and Stanford recruit Ava Parekh (16:27.1). Welin held off Glenbard North junior Grace Schager (16:42.1).

“Obviously, I was really nervous. It was my first race back and at it was Detweiller at a huge meet. It doesn’t really matter how I’m running right now. It matters how I’m running at state and sectionals,” said Welin, who has two college visits remaining.

Sophomore Katie Stabb (33rd, 18:24.6), Minnis (39th, 18:30.9) and juniors Natalie Quinn (111th, 19:52.7) and Anne Stine (128th, 20:06.0) were last Saturday’s other top-five finishers for OPRF, which was eighth and fourth, respectively, in Peoria.

“We’ve always been really close and always worked really hard together, pack running. I’m excited to see what we can do,” said Duwe, also returning from injury. “Josephine’s amazing. She’s been there for me and other people personally and always there for our team whenever it matters.”

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