Nick Thatcher hit a plateau early in his running career that infuriated him.
Competitors he used to beat in middle school were passing him in high school cross country meets.
“It really sucked working extremely hard and not improving,” he said. “I had been pretty successful. I won the (1,600 meter race for Altadena at the Kyrene) Conference meet. After that I started to plateau and people were beating me.”
As frustrating as it was the Desert Vista junior also knew it was going to take drastic measures to get through it no matter how much he trained and followed the Thunder regimen.
He was born with pectus excavatum, which is a congenital disorder which causes the chest to have a sunken or “caved in” appearance.
It made it hard for his lungs to expand fully, pushed on heart valves, made breathing on runs more difficult and depleted oxygen uptake.
He couldn’t just outwork everyone to stay ahead of the pack. It didn’t matter if he trained constantly. There was certain limitations he’d never overcome.
The Thatcher family decided to have the corrective Nuss procedure surgery, which involves placing metal bars in the chest cavity, done on June 1.
“We honestly didn’t know if we’d get him back for the season,” Thunder coach Chris Hanson said. “He was a great runner when he was younger, but as it turned out he was running about 80 percent of what he could be. Not only did we get him back for the season, he became one of our top competitors.”
There was a time during his recovery just a short five months ago Thatcher had difficulty walking 400 meters without being winded after having two metal bars inserted in his chest cavity to expand his lung capacity.
That seemed to be ages ago, and not just a handful of months, on Saturday when he helped the Thunder to their third straight state cross country title.
“I was really surprised I was on the state championship team,” he said. “I was really out of it for awhile. Running at a 10-minute pace was exhausting.”
After continuous progression from “sitting in his house doing nothing” while continuing to being “awful when everyone else was getting better,” Thatcher was good enough to finish 14th in the Division I meet with a time of 16:30 which was good enough to be the Desert Vista’s fourth best runner on the day.
“It is so relieving,” he said. “To make it here has been amazing. Everyone has been so encouraging and I am so thankful for my teammates.
“For awhile I was like why did I ever have the surgery? Plateauing was better than what I am now (when he was on the comeback trail). I was sad and pretty much depressed for awhile.
"Now looking back I am thankful for it because it has made me a better runner. I am more resistant to pain and I can push through it knowing everything I’ve been through.”
* Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him Twitter @JasonPSkoda