When Allie Melchiorre and Madelyn Keating thought about the 2022 season this time last year, they saw only question marks.
Class 3A Melchiorre, senior at Berwick, and Class 2A Keating, junior at Wyoming Area, had suffered significant injuries that could have ended their athletic careers. Now just one day away from the PIAA Track and Field Championships in Shippensburg, the two qualified in multiple events after winning four combined individual gold medals in the District 2 meet.
“At first I thought it was going to be an easy comeback,” Keating said. “People get hurt all the time. I hadn’t realized how much this hurt really had on not only your body, but also your mind.
“You see comebacks happening everywhere. You don’t expect them to happen to you.
Keating tore his ACL during basketball practice in early 2021. In what should have been his second season on the track – his first season after the onset of COVID-19 – Keating had to watch from the sidelines before spending the summer going to physical therapy and training at Fame Force.
When Keating returned to the track in the fall, it wasn’t just his healing physical health, but also his mental approach. Keating noticed that she was not achieving her goals and was very hard on herself because she was not in the same place she had been the year before.
But she persisted. By the end of the 2021 cross country season, Keating had qualified for district and state meets – a feat that boosted her confidence for the upcoming track season.
In his first high school track meet, Keating broke the school record in the 1600 meters clocking 5:21 against Nanticoke Area. Then she broke the individual record of 3200 with her time of 11:22 against Tunkhannock before helping 3200 relay teammates Ella McKernan, Samara Campenni and Nina Angeli to a school record time of 9:59 against Lake-Lehman in the Wyoming Valley Conference championship.
At the district meet, Keating came away from the two-day event with two individual golds in the 1600 and 3200 and another gold in the 3200 relay. While racing the relay and 3200 on Saturday, Keating will have to prepare for the 1600 on Friday.
“Little confidence builders got me to where I am now,” Keating said. “You start hitting targets and beating people you never expected to beat. And that pushes you, and that’s where you get your momentum to keep going.
Although she was initially diagnosed with biceps tendonitis, Melchiorre returned to the doctor after therapy failed. A few MRIs and another doctor later, Melchiorre discovered that she had torn her labrum and partially torn her rotator cuff.
Not wanting to waste another year after COVID-19, Melchiorre continued his junior season and underwent shoulder surgery that summer. The next eight months or so were spent getting back into competitive form.
“You keep throwing because you think it’s just a pulled muscle. So I kept throwing and throwing, and it got progressively worse,” Melchiorre said. “My junior season, I was going to therapy two or three times a week throughout the year and I actually maximized the physical therapy.”
It was in a regular season encounter against Hazleton Area and 2021 PIAA Class 3A Javelin Champion Abbey Hengst that Melchiorre felt this was going to be a good year. Melchiorre had a big throw that helped her take first place in the event, giving her the mental and physical boost she needed.
Melchiorre rode that sentiment all the way to Scranton Memorial Stadium for the district meet.
“Before, my coach was like, ‘You can only control yourself, don’t worry about anyone but yourself,'” Melchiorre said. “It kind of eased my nerves a bit by going into (the districts) a bit. I stay calm. And that’s really what I did.
This season, Melchiorre has always been at the top of his throwing challenges and, heading into the District 2 encounter, tried to relax and enjoy the experience. At the end of Wednesday’s competition, Melchiorre was both the discus and javelin champion.
“I kept thinking, ‘If I come back, this will happen,'” Melchiorre said. “If I stay on the path, keep a cool head and do what I’m told to do in therapy, then I’ll be fine. I’m grateful for how the season went. It was worth all the hard work.
For both athletes, visualization has been a key part of their journeys.
Keating drew inspiration and hope from Rocky Balboa’s return from injury in “Rocky IV” and films about distance runners like Steve Prefontaine. She also spoke with those around her about her fears and the difficulties of overcoming her injury to succeed in her sport.
Keating has one more year with the Warriors. While she’s very focused on the PIAA competition this weekend, next year she thinks she’ll do even better.
For Melchiorre, whose high school athletic career with the Bulldogs will end in Shippensburg, imagining herself standing atop the podiums in the district — and hopefully, the state — is what pushed her through all physical therapy and rehab and get back on track.
“I want states,” Melchiorre said. “(The Districts) just made me want to win. And I’m just going to use that feeling.
PIAA State Athletics Meet
Where: Seth Grove Stadium, University of Shippensburg
TV coverage: None on May 27, but PCN will cover the track finals on May 28 from 9 a.m.