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07/15/2023 07:48 AM

Chen Overcomes Midseason Injury to Break Guilford Track Record

Guilford boys’ outdoor track senior captain Joshua Chen overcame a midseason hamstring injury that kept him sidelined for a good chunk of the season to return to the fold and break the school record in the 400 meter race. Photo courtesy of Joshua Chen

Adversity can really slow down and alter an athlete’s path to success both emotionally and physically. Having to miss pertinent time away from competition could be detrimental towards achieving individual and team goals. Despite the obstacles that got in his way, Joshua Chen didn’t let any of them stop him from making Guilford High School history this spring.

Joshua’s high school track season could have ended earlier than planned. The culprit? A dreaded pulled hamstring, sustained during one of the final practices before a postseason meet.

“We were doing handoffs in practice, two days before the (SCC East) meet,” Joshua says. “I just stepped wrong.”

In the days to follow, Joshua couldn’t do more than walk. And even then, the Guilford senior sprinter was sporting a noticeable limp. Concerned, he alerted his coaches.

“I emailed (Assistant Coach George Cooksey). I told him, ‘This isn’t looking good. I can’t walk without limping,’” Joshua recalls.

Again, Joshua could’ve shut it down there. Except, he didn’t, truly showing his desire and will to keep pushing forward and find success on the track.

After roughly three weeks on the shelf, Joshua returned on June 1 for the Class MM State Championship track meet. And he did so in scintillating, record-setting fashion. Joshua clocked in at 49.74 seconds in the 400 meter dash, breaking Sam McKnight’s 30-year-old school mark of 50.07. Joshua’s time was good for third overall, behind Windsor’s Hunter Howard (49.08) and Daniel Hand’s Kyle Hoffman (49.13).

Joshua’s performance left his peers and coaches in awe.

“What Josh did this year is probably one of the most incredible athletic feats I’ve seen in my career,” Guilford Head Coach Liam Norton says. “His first opportunity after the injury, he ran better than he ever has before. He took his recovery in a very intelligent way. He made sure he knew what he was doing.”

Joshua, a team captain, was meticulous in his rehab, which included several physical therapy sessions. He also received a good deal of emotional support, especially from his twin brother, Kyle, 18, who competed with him in the 4x400 relay.

“They are twins,” Norton says. “They drive each other to practice. It’s a way Kyle was able to keep Josh on the team. It’s not like Josh was just sitting on the sidelines, ‘Oh I can’t do anything.’ Sometimes, athletes in track, they help coach each other. It’s one of the beauties of the sport.”

Upon returning from the injury, Joshua was understandably a bit cautious. He didn’t know how, if at all, his hamstring would hold up. In fact, due to sheer pain and exhaustion, he told his coaches he’d probably fall down at some point. He hadn’t gone full-out recently, so there was no telling what would happen. So much was unknown.

“I wanted to go all-out as long as I could,” Joshua says. “I tried to keep my expectations low and my hopes high.”

As a senior, Joshua knew it would likely be his last chance to compete in a sport he loves. In that sense, he figured he didn’t have much to lose. He knew that no matter what happened, there’d be a reason for it.

In hindsight, Joshua credits much of his success to the support he received from his coaches and the Guilford track community as a whole. Their wisdom and assurances gave him the confidence to push forward and chase his dreams in midst of adversity.

“I hadn’t realized how much of an impact the support and encouragement from my teammates, coaches, peers, and opponents have had on pushing me to be the best I could be,” Joshua says. “After I got injured, every practice my teammates, especially fellow captain Michael Masotti, would check up on me and ask me how I was doing. Walking out on the track every day to see my fellow Guilford runners on the track, whether recovering from injury, chasing school records like myself, supporting other runners, running year-round, or just being there to have fun, really pushed me to succeed beyond what I initially thought was possible. I credit my success at breaking the 400m record to the support of my coaches and the entire GHS track community who never gave up on me. I also like to believe that everything has a purpose — I had a sense that no matter what eventually happened there was a reason and purpose for it. This sort of reassurance and faith helped me give it my all without fear.”

When Joshua first joined the outdoor track team in the spring of his junior year, he quickly established himself as the fastest sprinter on the circuit. During that 2022 season, he recorded the team’s best times in the 100 meters (11.5), 200 (23.0), and 400 (51.76) and became an electrifying anchor leg for the 4x400 relay — coming from behind on multiple occasions to bring Guilford to victory. Over the course of his final season in a Grizzlies uniform, Joshua once again established a plethora of team-best times, including in the 100 meters (11.3), 200 (23.3) and 800 (2:00.74). He ran his last high school race as the anchor of the 4x400 team, and came from behind to earn a victory. Each performance was inspiring in itself and his coaches applauded him for his ability to get back onto the track as quickly as he could and for never giving up on his goals.

“Josh’s journey to the school record will serve future GHS athletes for years to come as a testament to the power of aspirations relentlessly pursued — especially in the face of nearly heartbreaking hurdles,” Cooksey says. “Though he was unable to compete in the SCC East and SCC Championships, Josh continued to serve the team. He was there to encourage his teammates and to carry and stand on the blocks for our sprinters. His positive attitude spoke of his full commitment to the team.”

In addition to track, Joshua also played soccer and was a clarinetist. Both he and his brother, Kyle, will attend Yale University in the fall. Joshua is uncertain if he will continue with track, though he does have the opportunity to compete collegiately as a walk-on. Understandably, he first wants to make sure he has enough time to properly focus on academics and more career-oriented extracurriculars. Still, the option is there.

Regardless, no matter what Joshua does, his peers know he will be successful.

“He is an incredible young man,” Norton says.