HAMPTON — When Phoebus senior Amira Aduma felt a pull in her hamstring at the New Balance Nationals Indoor meet in March, the track star also started to feel snakebitten.
While the Daily Press Female Athlete of the Year had a pile of state titles from her high school career, including three from the Group 3A indoor state championship meet two weeks earlier, she also seemed hounded by injury.
A concussion disrupted her freshman year, a sprained ankle her junior year, a right hamstring strain her senior indoor season. Now a left hamstring strain would sideline her from the outset of her senior outdoor season, her last with the Phantoms.
Phoebus coach Vernita Brown saw the disappointment in Aduma's face at the national meet in New York as the reality of her injury settled upon her.
"She's a senior, she's finally peaking at the right time, and now this happens," Brown said.
Yet Brown also saw the determined set in Aduma's jaw the next week as she went to see a doctor, a physical therapist and an athletic trainer.
Each one asked her: Would she try to come back for outdoor season? Or would she punt?
The latter would have been a fair choice: Aduma had signed her national letter of intent with the University of Illinois in November and would compete with the track team on a full scholarship. She could bypass her final high school season and focus her energies on the collegiate level. Aduma, though, would not think of it.
"She was really determined to come back," Brown said. "She wanted to finish her senior year on her own terms."
Aduma knew the work it took to rehab an injury. She did not want to do it again, but she would play the hand she had been dealt.
"As an athlete, that is your worst fear," Aduma said. "But you have to figure out: Is this injury going to make me or is it going to break me?"
The road to recovering proved taxing both physically and emotionally.
She pushed herself as hard as she could, and she continued to attend practice to support her teammates. At times, though, the practices proved too much to bear, her mother and AAU coach, Nyarinda Aduma, said.
"Teammates would ask: 'When are you coming back? When are you coming back?' And there's no answer," Nyarinda Aduma said. "It hurt so much. She really struggled with that."
Weeks of grueling physical therapy finally ended with one of the most dominant stretches of Amira Aduma's high school career.
During her first meet back from injury, the Real Deal Track Classic at Todd Stadium on April 29, she ran her season-best time of 56.73 seconds in the 400-meter dash, which stood as the top time in the area this year.
She started crossing off state-meet qualifications one by one. She took care of the 400 and the 200 at the Real Deal Track Classic. Then she moved to the 100 and the long jump, and then finally the 300-meter hurdles, until she was ready for the Group 3A state meet at Harrisonburg High on June 2-3.
"I trusted my training," Aduma said. "I trusted I was back in shape. In my head, I was like: I know I'm ready for this. And I trusted my body and just performed."
She won three titles at the state meet: the 100-meter dash (11.98), the 300-meter hurdles (43.18, a personal best) and the long jump (19 feet, 2 1/4 inches). She also placed second as a member of the 4x400-meter relay (4:00.63).
The senior ended her Phoebus career with 15 state titles, including six total this year between the indoor and outdoor season.
Her final high school meet came at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor competition in Greensboro, N.C.
While Aduma had gotten hurt three months earlier on the national stage, this time she ran what Nyarinda Aduma described as "a picture-perfect race" in the 400-meter hurdles June 18.
Amira Aduma set a personal best of 59.18 seconds to take third place and become a first-time All-American.
She credited her Phantoms teammates with supporting her as she worked her way back from injury and all the way to the national meet.
"Every meet, once they finished their events, they would just stand by the track and yell my name," Aduma said. "Every single time I was on the track, I would hear them: 'Let's go, Aduma!'"
Brown said Aduma leaves behind a legacy greater than her state titles for the athletes who come after her: She set an example with her academics as class salutatorian, with her responsibility as senior class president and with her determination and dedication as a teammate.
For her part, Aduma hopes she helped her teammates see their own potential, regardless of any setbacks or doubts.
She recalled spotting junior Da'Jion Hilliard looking downcast before he ran the 300-meter hurdles at the Group 3A state meet.
"I came and I dumped cold water on his neck to wake him up," Aduma said. "I'm like, 'Look, you can do this. You want it just as bad or worse than any of these other boys. You just have to put it to the test. You've just got to run.' "
A more upbeat Hilliard took to the track and finished second in the event.
"Some of them don't believe in themselves yet because they don't see what I see," Aduma said. "I want to tell all of them: Look, y'all can do this. Y'all can run. You have the potential. You have the talent."
Yanchulis can be reached by phone at 757-298-5176.