Injury to Rhody runner leads to career path

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KINGSTON, R.I. — April 26, 2006 — Courtney Klenk’s injured left leg could have tripped up her academic and running success at the University of Rhode Island.

Instead, it helped the senior biology major discover a career and gave her an additional chance to compete and bolster her academic resume.

During the fall of 2004 in her junior year, she injured her iliotibial band, which connects the pelvis to the leg, forcing her to miss the entire cross country season and most of the indoor track season.

The Chartley, Mass. resident was disappointed about missing the Atlantic 10 Indoor Track and Field Championships, but she threw herself into physical therapy and kept up with her studies.

It was during that period with physical therapist Lynn Johnson in nearby Plainville, Mass. when Klenk started to get a feel for her career. “Lynn went to Holy Cross, majored in biology and ran distance events in college, just like me.”

Klenk, a member of the URI women’s track and cross-country teams, said Johnson understood her struggle to recover because she had suffered running injuries too.

“She was able to spend a lot of one-on-one time with me and she challenged me physically at each appointment. She’s just a genuine person who cares about her patients.”

Because of that experience, Klenk wants to pursue a graduate degree in physical therapy.

So even though Klenk has a 4.0 grade point average and will participate in the May commencement exercises with her class, she will return to URI for another year to obtain minors in psychology and kinesiology in preparation for graduate school.

“These programs will help me prepare for additional study in physical therapy,” said Klenk who won the college/university division of the 13th Annual USA Today National Sportsmanship Day Essay contest in March.

A keynote speaker at this year’s URI student-athletes dean’s list reception where her sister, Kelsey was also honored, Klenk said physical therapy consumed a lot of her time.

“But not getting better and returning to my teammates was not an option, and letting my grades drop was not an option. I sucked it up and put in the time that was needed. I take pride in my work and I’m not satisfied if I don’t give 100 percent.”

A walk-on to the cross country and track and field teams, Klenk was runner-up in the 5,000 meter run at the 2004 Atlantic 10 Indoor Track and Field Championships and has been a part of five Atlantic 10 indoor or outdoor track and field championships at URI. She was named to the 2003 Atlantic 10 Academic All Conference Cross Country Team and the 2005 Atlantic 10 Academic All Conference Outdoor Track and Field Team.

Calling herself a mediocre high school runner, Klenk said the efforts of her URI coach, Laurie Feit-Melnick, helped her develop. “She has been a wonderful teacher who helped me become a competitive college runner. Coach works so hard with all of us.”

Throughout her career Klenk has followed the advice of several mentors who urged her to strive for excellence. At the podium during the student-athlete reception, she offered her own. “When confronted with a challenge, you must decide whether to boldly accept the challenge or avoid it. Clearly, you have all accepted and overcome the challenges of being a student-athlete. Congratulations on your success thus far. Keep challenging yourself and once you graduate from URI, you will be prepared to grab life by the horns.”

Courtney Klenk. URI News Bureau photo by Michael Salerno Photography.