It started just over a year ago.
Hebron's Ryan Witt had finished the Gavit Invitational when the surgically-repaired knee that cost him most of his sophomore season began to swell.
"Right off the bat, I was like, 'Oh my God, it's happening again," he said. "I had to question what I wanted to do, Was it worth building myself up, getting all excited, only to crash down again?"
One of the Hawks' top runners as a freshman, Witt's discomfort proved to be a result of osteochondritis dissecans. Due to a lack of blood supply, small pieces of bone and the cartilage around it crack and loosen. To restore stability, doctors inserted screws in the area just below Witt's knee joint. In his haste to make it back, he pushed himself too hard, running more miles than the knee could handle.
"It probably wasn't the best idea to let him run," coach Mike DeFries said. "He wanted to help the team."
Gavit wouldn't be Witt's last race of 2012. After having the knee drained and receiving cortisone shots, he returned for the postseason, but was well off his pace.
"My whole motivation was to get back to running fast," he said. "Now, I want to get back to being really fast, but to also be healthy. I have to play it safe, listen to my body better."
Despite the blow, Witt didn't lose his deep passion for running, one that few have rivaled in DeFries' tenure.
"We were missing a runner, but we were never missing a leader," DeFries said. "He was up front and center, yelling at every practice. One day, my daughter (Emily) passed out during a run. I was tending to her, and he just took over. He's a natural."
Witt returned in the spring, using the track season to prep himself for cross country. Instead of running 12 miles, he'd log 8. The only time he pounded pavement was to stop by former coach Dave Walker's house for popsicles. To compensate for the lower mileage, he took up cross fitness. He lifted weights and did plyometrics, also using hurdles and speed workouts to strengthen the muscles around his knee.
"We knew he'd get back; we just had to make sure he was healthy this time," DeFries said. "He's on grass every minute. If his miles go up, he has to take a day off. As a coach, you know what you want to do, but he knows how he feels. He's done a lot of it himself. He just has to be careful."
In his first race back, Witt matched his personal best as a freshman, though times at this juncture aren't too crucial. He has been a huge influence on talented freshman Scott Crawley, Hebron's No. 2 runner.
"He takes him every day," DeFries said.
As a senior, Witt knows he doesn't have any more chances in high school. He was supposed to have a college visit that day at Gavit, but never heard from the coach again.
"It's a little motivation," he said. "Looking back, I'm like, 'Man, I could've been up there', but I'm at this point for a reason and I just have to work with what's here."
At season's end, Witt doesn't want to be a sympathetic figure. Instead, he hopes his finish evokes inspiration.
"I've got a chip on my shoulder," he said. "When I get off the bus at meets, I'm the kid who's always been hurt and has never run good times. This is my year to prove myself. Realistically, I just want to go into the last week of October at the New Prairie Semistate and go up to the line with no regrets, knowing I worked as hard as I could. If I do the best I can, then I'll be happy."