Venessa D’Arpino knows what it’s like to be knocked down and have to battle to get back up.
In 2014 it was a collapsed lung that delayed her training as she began her freshman year at Oregon State.
The following spring, she suffered a freak weight room injury that crushed three discs in her back and took her away from track and field for nearly a year.
The junior sprinter from North Valley High in Grants Pass has clawed her way back and is putting together one of the best seasons in Beavers program history.
D’Arpino owns OSU’s all-time fastest times in the 100, 200 and 400 meters, all set this month.
Competing for the fifth weekend in a row, she finished second in the 200 (23.72 seconds) and won the 400 (54.17) in Saturday’s OSU High Performance Meet with times just off her personal bests of 23.63 and 54.14, respectively.
“I guess it just comes down to mental drive,” D’Arpino said of her recent hot stretch. “There’s girls on this team that I’ve bonded with big time. At practice we push each other to our limits. We want nothing more than to be successful and help this program grow.”
She said her legs on Saturday were feeling the impact of her busy schedule and that she’s looking forward to tapering for the Pac-12 championships, May 13-14 in Eugene.
D’Arpino, whose sister Kerissa is also on the team, is making up for lost time following her March 2015 on-campus injury.
She bent her knees while doing a warm-up set of squats and couldn’t feel her legs.
“I racked (the bar), even. As soon as I racked it I had no sensation and I collapsed,” D’Arpino said.
She was put in traction and left in an ambulance. She was crying more from not knowing what was next — and the possibility of dying — than from the pain of the injury, she said.
Her family has a degenerative disc disease. Venessa’s mother, Sherry, has it, but Venessa had never shown signs of any problems.
D’Arpino returned to the track in 2016. She came back too early, she says, and her times showed it. Looking back, she believes she should have applied for a medical redshirt, which would have given her an additional season if it was granted.
But 2017 has been a different story. An NCAA championship berth is within reach.
Oregon State coach Kelly Sullivan said D’Arpino deserves the results she’s seeing because of her hard work to get back.
“It’s just been a gradual, slow process of bringing her back healthy and making sure not to overdo it,” he said. “What she’s done in this outdoor (season), I couldn’t be happier for her.”
Teammate Devin Collins is still waiting on her best times.
The senior set school records in the 100 hurdles (13.45) and 400 hurdles (58.64) in 2016. Her top times this spring are 13.83 and 1:00.94, respectively
Saturday, she took second in the 100s (14.01) and fifth in the 400s (1:01.14).
Collins is much better off than she was last year, when she entered the outdoor season with mononucleosis and also dealt with a bulging disc in her back. But she came on strong at the end of the season and placed fifth in the 100 hurdles at the Pac-12 championship meet.
This year she says she’s “healthy as a horse” and stronger. That leaves her uncertain why she isn’t posting better times.
“It’s hard because you don’t know really what to look at, because you have everything to do what you should be doing. It’s just not there yet.” Collins said.
She was the fastest she’d ever been over the fifth hurdle in the 100s Saturday before stepping on a shoelace, preventing a quicker time. She says the fast start is a good sign because she always runs the second half of that race faster.
Having yet to reach NCAA regional qualifying standards, Collins said she plans to run both races at Friday’s Oregon Twilight in Eugene.
Also Saturday, OSU’s Kindel Bailey broke the school record in the javelin at 151 feet even. Teammate McKenzie Byrd set the previous mark of 150-9¼ three weeks earlier.
Oregon State’s Ally Jackson won the high jump with a personal-best 5-7¼.