CCU’s Lemon on the road to recovery after accident

Back in late January, Sarah Lemon, a distance runner for the Coastal Carolina women’s track & field/cross country teams, crossed the finish line of the 3,000-meter run at the Liberty Kick Off in 31st place with a time of 11:46.02. It was hardly her best time but it was a feat that five months prior, Lemon and her family were not sure she would be able to accomplish.

On the night of August 19, 2017, Lemon was crossing highway 544 near campus when a vehicle struck her. It resulted in massive trauma and an extensive list of injuries that left the remainder of her running days in doubt.

The injuries Lemon suffered included a broken right humerus; fractures in her left shoulder blade and left collarbone; a fractured L5 vertebrae and sacrum; a broken jaw; six stitches on her left temple; a concussion; and abrasions covering her body.

After spending seven full days at Grand Strand Medical Center on the north end of Myrtle Beach, Lemon flew home to Mifflinburg, Pa., for her recovery. Unable to walk or use a wheelchair because of her injuries, Lemon was confined to bed rest for two weeks. The majority of her days were spent sleeping, half due to exhaustion and the other half because it was the easiest way to pass the time.

During Lemon’s first round of medical treatments in the weeks following the accident, she saw four different doctors for the injuries on her torso and lower half, her jaw and her head.

The doctor treating Lemon’s jaw at Grand Strand Medical Center had the choice of wiring her mouth shut or inserting a metal plate. The surgeon opted for the metal plate, believing it to be the best option. The surgery required Lemon be placed on a diet of liquid and soft foods for the next 12 weeks.

Lemon avoided having a second surgery performed when she visited the doctor treating her broken humerus. In lieu of having a metal plate put in place to treat the break, Lemon wore a Sarmiento brace for six weeks.

The neurologist that oversaw Lemon cleared her for a concussion and removed the stitches in her temple.

While the first three of her treatments were anything but easy, Lemon’s hardest medical visit concerned the injuries to the lower half of her body. The first doctor she visited could not give her a time frame as to when she would be able to continue running.

Devastated, Lemon decided to reach out to Dr. Lin of Sun Orthopedic Lewisburg (Pa.), an orthopedic doctor that had taken care of her broken ankle two years prior. Dr. Lin agreed to see her and an appointment was scheduled by the end of the fourth week.

In the week leading up to her appointment with Dr. Lin, Lemon had started using her left arm to push her wheelchair while steering with her toes. She was also able to hobble around on her right foot while placing a little pressure on her left side. The next week, she was no longer using the wheelchair or a cane and was able to walk without pain. By the fifth week following the accident, Lemon began working with a physical therapist and was doing exercises to regain strength in her limbs, specifically her legs.

Lemon was in constant contact with her Coastal Carolina head cross country coach Zola Pieterse, during this time. Coach Pieterse devised a running plan that consisted of three to four runs per week, running two minutes at a time with a minute walk in between. Over the next month, Lemon was able to increase her repetitions while lowering the recovery time between runs and eventually returned to her normal training. Lemon returned to Coastal Carolina during the third week of October and began working with coach Pieterse and Tyler Redding.

Academically, Lemon had to drop four of her five classes during the 2017 fall semester. She continued taking her decision analysis class – a distance learning class – to remain eligible so she could compete during the spring semester. She knew she was ahead of her four-year plan by having completing classes over the summer, so it would not affect her graduating on time. Lemon was thinking of the possibility of pursuing a dual major in marketing and management but was waiting until the start of her junior year to declare when the classes were more specific. Technically she is a semester behind with the extra class requirements of being a double major. After talking with her advisors, Lemon recently learned that if she lines up her summer correctly she can catch up and graduate on time with the rest of her class.

“At the time, I was most concerned with keeping Sarah connected to academics and Coastal Carolina,” said Professor Lee Shinaberger. “Some could use the hardships she endured as an excuse to quit. Sarah had too much potential as a student, and I wanted to provide her encouragement to keep going. I should have known that Sarah would not give up.”

Lemon now lives life in 30-minute increments, so, when something comes up, she can take the opportunity and run with it, giving it everything she has.

However, she does have plans for the future. She spent collectively four months working as an intern at both MillisporeSigma (Merck) and for Process Solutions. The time with Process Solutions provided her with a tremendous experience and with quality people. Working with a pharmaceutical company is not something she looks to do in the future, but the opportunity of working with such a large, international company was something she could not pass up.

The whole experience of support from family, friends and the team was so uplifting. Also, she credits the care and love from everyone allowed her to recover more quickly than she could imagine. Her family sacrificed a lot with all the doctor’s appointments, aqua training, grocery store runs (milk and peanut butter), and just being there gave her the reason to get out of bed every morning to show the world what Mark and Marianne Lemon’s daughter can be and do.

January 24, 2018, will be a day remembered by Lemon as it was the day she was cleared to compete. When Lemon learned from her doctors and trainer that she was cleared to compete, she had to rush from the room so they would not see her tear up.

“Blessed is an understatement, but by far the theme that encompasses this entire experience,” Lemon said. “Just like how every day is a blessing and every run is an honor.”

Although she had been training for a few months, Lemon knew she was by no means in good competition shape. Despite that, she felt as though she needed to compete in one race. Lemon knew it wasn’t going to be a great race and, in fact, she finished several seconds slower than her times from last season. However, she needed to have that feeling of competing and chasing other runners. She wanted to come back to Coastal with a humbling experience to know where she stood and what she needed to do to get ready for the outdoor season.

All things considered, competing five months after the accident, that initial return to the track will be a race she will never forget. Coach Zola gave her the option to compete in two more races following that weekend but Lemon decided to stay back and train. With a little under a month, until the team’s first outdoor track meet, she wanted to be ready.

“I really did need that meet and how I feel is exactly what I wanted – humbled and hungry,” Lemon said. “So now it is about patience, thankfulness and focus on the outdoor season.”

Photo courtesy of CCU Athletics

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