ST. JOHN | With a scholarship to Grand Valley State already secured, Riley Wayco could have called it a prep career.
Her plant leg was on the brink of a stress fracture in the middle of this, her senior season, one fraught with inconsistent weather and complications from not having a track behind the high school anymore.
Wayco, however, remembered some lessons she learned about perseverance from Ghost and his predecessors.
Ghost was Wayco’s horse that she rode in equestrian competitions and various shows and fairs before she sold the retired racetrack thoroughbred this past December.
Through 11 years of riding horses Wayco took many falls, broke a few bones and suffered many bruises. The obvious moral of each mishap was that it’s important to get back on the horse.
“After everything I’ve been through with horses, I knew I couldn’t give up on this year,” Waco said. “If not for that experience I might have given up. But I had goals when I was riding horses, and I have goals with this sport and this team.”
The proud holder of a 4.0 cumulative grade-point average, Wayco also picked up plenty of tips on physical fitness and caring for soreness with the horses long before she showed up to Lake Central to specialize in her lone event since freshman year.
That attention to detail likely saved Wayco’s senior season. After the second outdoor meet of this season in mid-March, Wayco began feeling pain that she thought was shin splints in her left (plant) leg. After a visit to Dr. Lorin Brown in Munster she learned that it was a budding stress fracture in her tibia. She immediately went on a two-week regimen of little to no physical activity through the end of March and has been nursing it ever since as the postseason marches on.
“If I didn’t go in and talk to anyone, I wouldn’t be doing anything right now,” Wayco said.
She wore a neoprene brace on the leg all day and all night — even at her job as a hostess at Outback Steakhouse in Merrillville — and spent a little time on an exercise bike pedaling with no resistance before easing herself back into action.
From March 15 through May 6 Wayco went from two weeks of nothing to one day of jumps each week to her current schedule of jumping only on Thursday, Saturday and a “premeet” ritual of three jumps at a starting height each Monday, with all postseason meets prior to state falling on Tuesdays.
She has not worn flip-flops since the stress fracture scare, and she takes two Ibuprofen four times a day and ices her knee four times each day to dissipate swelling.
“She’s been very dedicated to this sport,” L.C. coach Ron Fredrick said. “It would have been very easy for her to sit back and say, ‘OK, I’m set at Grand Valley State and don’t need to run any risks.’
“But she’s determined, and if she sets a goal for herself and works at it and does it.”
Fredrick gained an early appreciation for Wayco’s dedication when she was a freshman and skipped a national equestrian competition for which she had qualified and opted to join the team in its annual visit to Kenosha, Wis., for the Lake Michigan Invitational at Carthage College without uttering a word to Fredrick about what she had sacrificed to compete for the Indians that weekend.
Wayco’s personal best jump is 5 feet, 7 inches, but during the indoor season she cleared 5-6 and was hoping for 5-10 or better by the end of the season, which would have made the 2012 state qualifier a legitimate state championship contender. She only cleared 5-3 in finishing second on tiebreakers at the Lowell Sectional last Tuesday despite only two weeks of solid practice.
Wayco still feels she is on a trajectory toward a high finish at state, but first she has to make it past tonight’s Chesterton Regional.
“I’m at about 85 percent right now,” Wayco said. “If I can make it to state, I’ll be at 100 percent with everything I’ve done and all the stuff I’ve paid attention to with my leg in taking care of it.”