Graduate student Shannon Wright is a runner on the cross country and track and field team. She placed first in the Lehigh-Lafayette dual meet, and helped propel the team to victory. (Cody Israel/B&W Photo)

Shannon Wright embarks on her victory lap

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At the beginning of her sophomore year, now graduate student Shannon Wright faced a course unlike any she had ever raced on. The course of her life was changing.

A talented, competitive cross country runner, Wright was in the middle of her practice when she experienced some very uncommon symptoms of nausea, which led to her collapse. Wright was immediately brought to the hospital.

“For a while they thought I was hypoglycemic,” Wright said. “But then I had a blood sugar test right when I was having symptoms and it was normal, so I got a referral to the neurologist.”

Wright said the MRI scan was initially read as clean, meaning there was no severe damage in her brain showing up.

Soon after, Wright discovered the clean reading of her brain was not accurate, and she had to withdraw from school for the semester. She was diagnosed with a “mid-brain benign lesion.”

“I came back to school in the spring, but I was having a rough time with my symptoms and stuff like that,” Wright said. “It was very clear that I wasn’t going to be able to compete. I just needed to focus on getting through this semester and trying to get healthy.”

Wright’s coach Deb Utesch expressed emotion about the situation, as she recalled how difficult it was to learn of Wright’s diagnosis.

“Shannon is one of the strongest girls I know,” Utesch said. “It was absolutely devastating receiving that phone call and hearing the news. Her teammates were so supportive and always watching out for her, making sure that she was feeling alright and praying for her daily.”

Wright explained the indescribable impact her teammates had on her and their genuine care for her as she was making her way back around campus. Incapable of seeing out of the corner of the slim part of the cuticle of her left eye, Wright said her friends and teammates were constant supporters, and would warn her of any unseeable objects she encountered.

“They were here through all of it,” Wright said. “I think we have done a really good job of coming together. Like when I am having a bad day, sometimes I still do, I’ve gotten better about voicing and being open and sharing things like that.”

Wright said she experienced a lot of hardship and frustration after her eight-and-half-hour surgery, coming back to school and running only three weeks later.

“I was nervous with how quickly she was back with the combination of how serious her surgery was and the fighter she is,” Utesch said. “I never wanted to limit her, but as a coach, I couldn’t let her push herself further than she could go at the time.”

Wright realized she would not have the same feeling on the course that she had felt in the past while running due to all of the pain medication she was taking, the 45 staples that were put into the back of her head and the nausea she experienced.

“It didn’t feel great,” she said. “I had lost a lot of weight because I was really, really nauseous all of the time because it elevates your inner-cranial pressure, which makes you throw up all of the time,” Wright said. “It took a long time for running, I would say, to feel normal.”

Former teammate Jennifer Markham praised Wright for her recovery. She called Wright one of the strongest women she knows, saying that she continued to fight through the whole process.

Markham described Wright’s time coming back to school as “fragile” because of how new the medical condition was to her.

“It was hard because I didn’t want (Wright) to think that I would treat her any differently, I just knew that she had gone through a serious surgery and I wanted to be super cautious of that,” Markham said.

Moving forward, Wright made strides in her recovery and bringing the “old Shannon back,” as Utesch said. During her senior season at the Lehigh Invitational, Wright finished third in the race and discussed how this was the race where she finally felt normal again.

Wright’s junior season was challenging because she was not used to her own body, and did not know what she could and could not handle at the time. However, in her invitational race, nothing was holding her back.

“It’s just really exciting to be back out there with my team,” Wright said. “Just to be back running and feeling good was really just an incredible experience.”

Throughout all of this, Wright has learned one of the most valuable lessons in her lifetime throughout this experience.

“It just put everything into perspective that a race is just a race.” Wright said. “And if you let it just be a race, you’re going to do better.”

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