That comes as a surprise after the redshirt junior struggled to overcome a chronic injury throughout the 2014 season. Smith had Haglund’s deformity, a bone spur in the Achilles tendon.
“Basically, it was tearing my tendon whenever I ran,” Smith said.
Smith said the level of pain was “decent” and comparable to tendinitis.
“We thought it was just tendinitis since my freshmen year, and I ran through it half my sophomore year but had to stop and miss basically my entire junior season,” Smith said.
Smith redshirted his freshman year and had success during his redshirt freshman season, earning All-Big Ten honors and helping the team win the Big Ten Championship for the first time since 1980.
Things unraveled quickly, and he opted for surgery to improve his condition.
“What he went through was extremely difficult,” IU Coach Ron Helmer said. “I admire what he was able to do, especially with the lengthy process of recovering from that type of debilitating surgery.”
The road from surgery to where Smith is now was long, but Smith said he never gave up.
“I told myself I wasn’t giving up, because once you have checked out and say it’s over, you have lost everything,” Smith said.
He said there were times he thought he wasn’t going to make it back, but those were never lasting thoughts.
“I was driven to get back not just for me but for coach and my teammates,” Smith said.
Smith’s positive attitude drove him through the many hours of training that it took to get back to full health.
“I did a lot of cross training — getting in the pool, jogging around and riding on a bike,” Smith said. “I was doing things that weren’t weight-bearing so I didn’t get any tearing or re-injuring.”
Helmer said Smith always remained patient and appreciated every improvement he made while recovering, no matter how small.
While Smith was on the sidelines, Helmer said he was still an asset to the team.
“Carl tends to have a no-nonsense approach to life, and if we needed a rational insight on something, he had that for us,” Helmer said.
Smith downplayed his role as a leader and said he sometimes helped talk young runners through struggles.
A monumental step forward for Smith was the Indiana Open, IU’s first meet of the year. In his return to competitive racing, he finished tenth with a time of 26:50.73 in the 8000 meters.
“It was a great feeling to finally be out there and be able to compete and run with my teammates,” Smith said.
Helmer said Smith has looked healthy with no limp, but he still needs to get his muscular strength and fitness back.
“He is taking risks and doing things he’s not ready to do,” Helmer said. “And that’s how you grow. Taking chances is his new mantra.”