From the running log of John Jordan LaPointe:
Day 24: Jan. 28, 2015 – Not Hump Day… “Hip” Day
•30 min Run – 9am
•Feels like the muscles in my right leg have been torn apart, put back together, torn apart again and put back together.
John Jordan LaPointe — more commonly known as JJ — is an English major at Christopher Newport University, where he is also a member of the cross country and track and field team, multiple time All-Conference athlete, two time All-Region athlete, and was the 2013 Rookie of the Year. On June 22, 2015, at 3:30pm in the stifling heat of summer, JJ found himself broken, both physically and emotionally. After months of pushing his body to the extreme by running 100 miles a week, lifting multiple days a week, and taking on the workload of a student athlete, LaPointe finished a 30 minute run that “felt like a marathon in hell with a backpack of bricks.” He struggled to make it inside, not feeling his right foot hit the ground — but what can you expect when you’re running and walking on a torn labrum and an acetabulum fracture.
Tears filled LaPointe’s eyes as he was told, “Your hips are not meant to run on.” Dr. Ochiai told LaPointe this as he found out that surgery was the only option if he ever wanted to run again. LaPointe wondered and thought to himself, “How can an injury possibly be the termination of my love for running.”
“That really bugged me,” LaPointe said. Little did he know, this timely moment was the beginning of his journey on the road to happiness and an unwavering love for running.
Unlike the typical LaPointe household breakfast consisting of Wildberry Pop-Tarts, Raisin Bran cereal, and a cup or two of black coffee, JJ found himself struggling to sip down even a single cup of coffee the day of his surgery. Even though he had come to terms with the physical repercussions of having the surgery, he was anxious not about the surgery, but about the cost of it. “The surgery was a shit load of money and my parents were going to have to pay for almost all of it,” he said. The cost of the surgery was going to require his dad to take on two additional jobs. LaPointe remembers thinking, “I’ll be fine if I don’t go through with the surgery. I won’t be able to run, but I’ll be living and able to bike and swim to stay in shape.”
He found himself asking if it was worth it to put his family through the economic hardship. Without hesitation, LaPointe’s dad, who is also his best friend, told him he was going to get the surgery because this was not an individual decision and was not only about JJ, the decision for surgery was about his friends and family as well. “We went through the surgery,” LaPointe said. Those most dear to him knew how much he loved running and wanted nothing more than for him to be able to live out his running career. LaPointe went into the surgery knowing the months to come would be difficult, but that it was something he needed to do in order to retrieve the missing piece to his puzzle.
Following the surgery, his injury now entered recovery mode, and the only thing he could do was wait. Wait for the pain to subside. Wait for physical therapy to start. Wait for a long fall of not running to be over. Wait for the rest of his running career to begin again. Just wait. Asking a runner to wait and be patient, in any circumstance, is like opening a new squeaker toy for a puppy, leaving it on the ground just out of reach, telling the puppy to “Stay!” while you leave the room, and expecting the puppy to remain still; it’s close to impossible. Not racing with the team was hard enough, but just the act of running itself, alongside his boys, was what LaPointe missed the most. He said, “All I wanted to do was run with the guys.” It was the morning Noland runs that he enjoyed in seasons past. Not a day passed that he did not think about lacing up his shoes and heading out the door, just as the sun was rising, with his teammates.
Of all the memories LaPointe and Will Bruner — a fellow junior on the CNU cross country team — had together, Bruner remembered (and missed) “the very short and very early morning runs to Noland Trail.” Bruner continued, “We shared a room, and when the alarm hit 6:20am he was already up and ready while I took my time to just put a pair of socks on my still asleep feet. No words were ever spoken on any of these mornings, even on the jogs over to the trail– just darkness and silence. I hated it all, but not JJ. If anything, it was his favorite part of the day.”
While the “little selfish voice in your head is hard to drown out sometimes,” LaPointe had a way of putting aside his individual wants and successes — which were many — and focused solely on the accomplishments and growth of both the men’s and women’s teams. “He was respectful, listened to the many sob stories of the guys and girls on the team, and did a fantastic job as team manager without any hesitation or questioning – just operated with silence,” Bruner described. Senior, Lydia Cromwell said, “His love for the sport translates to the treatment of his fellow runners, and it’s infectious.” The men continued to look to LaPointe as a leader and mentor, some even referring to him as a “Legend,” and he made the women’s hearts melt, eventually leading up to him receiving the superlative “Team Heartthrob” at the annual cross country formal.
Before even setting foot on CNU’s campus as a student athlete, freshmen Matthew Burke was already overjoyed to have the opportunity to train with LaPointe. As Bruner recalled, “He (LaPointe) came in as the top recruit and everyone knew that; everyone but him.” While the men’s side is stacked with talented runners, LaPointe’s showing during his freshmen and sophomore years at CNU made him a standout. LaPointe did not care about being a “top runner.” As Cromwell put it, “He is fast, but he does not let success go to his head or failure go to his heart.” Instead, he was able to use his success to lead the younger athletes coming into the program. The first few months of college were very difficult for Burke, but no one other than LaPointe was right there to guide him in his journey. With his constant smile, Burke stated, “JJ was the only one who truly reached out to me to make me feel better. Because of JJ, I changed how my lifestyle was going. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t even know where my training and confidence would be at.”
Many lessons were taught through LaPointe’s experience, but one in particular resonates with the team as a whole. “JJ had taught me that bad things will happen – injuries happen – but that does not mean you have to act on it aggressively, yet you should find happiness and nirvana always, even in the darkest of times,” Bruner said. A heartthrob for the ladies, aligning the hearts of the men, and keeping the flame of desire suppressed within his own heart; cardiothoracic surgeons do not touch as many hearts in three months as LaPointe did that fall while recovering.
121 days following the hip surgery, LaPointe went on his first “real” run, meaning it was more than the teases of running he was allowed during his recovery: one minute of running followed by five minutes of walking. It was an easy pre-meet run with a fellow teammate. It wasn’t a “volcano of emotion and just be erupting with joy and happiness,” as he had thought it may be. Instead, it was simply a run. A simple 30 minutes. A powerful 30 minutes. It was his 30 minutes. He was once again running.
“I felt good and felt like I hadn’t missed a beat. My stride felt bouncy and my mind felt clear,” LaPointe described. He was ecstatic to be back at it with his team. Looking back, however, he did find his time out from running to be rewarding. While being the team’s cheerleader and manager, he “grew a lot as an athlete and as a man through all that waiting.” LaPointe now puts his energy and focus into becoming the best version of himself in all aspects of his life. He dreams of not only running at nationals, but of “being an English teacher and cross country coach… one day writing a children’s book… traveling the world and exploring new cultures… putting a little bit of happiness in every person that crosses my path.” Whether he is on the sidelines cheering on his team or leading the race, the presence of this new LaPointe gives off a feeling of joy, a feeling of belonging, and a feeling of inspiration.
From the running log of John Jordan LaPointe:
Wed. Jan 13 – Some 8’s
•Team workout – 3pm
•Workout on the track this afternoon. 1 mi warm-up, 6×800 and a 45 min run to follow…lots of great stuff from this workout. 100% sure that I am running with soooo much more fire in my heart than thoughts in my mind. I’m so pumped to be back and so beyond excited to be working with the guys again. I keep surprising myself with each workout and run I do. I don’t know how I’m doing it, but the only reason I can think of is because I missed it so much and I’m just livin’ life and lovin’ it and embracing all the moments that are awesome and even the ones that suck! So hype.
The sport of running pushes the body to the limit. It is a drug. It can become an addiction. It is a limit that runners ultimately crave. Time… time… time; it is what controls and motivates a runner. The 90-minute long runs, the split of each 400 meters in the 5k race on the track, the pace of a Thursday steady run; it is all important. Before the surgery, LaPointe’s focus was primarily on time. When he thinks back, he can “honestly say I didn’t love the sport, nor did I even like it, I think. I was just in it for the time.” While the sport revolves around time, splits, and getting to the finish line first, what one cannot see through the eye of the runner is the heart, the passion, the work, the perseverance, the success, the losses, the nagging injuries, the early morning practices, and the support of friends and family. These are what make running timeless.
Since the surgery, LaPointe’s mindset is vastly different than that of pre-surgery. When asked how the experience with his injury has changed the way he views running he stated, “I just want to run my best and eat up the moments to succeed. I want to run like a high hippie, run free, and love it. I want to embrace the moments that suck and embrace the moments that are awesome. Everything I pursue in my life, whether it be a sport, a passion, a girl, I want to do it with a heart of fire and mind of little thought. Heart over mind, that’s the real big change from the surgery.”
Running is about the love and appreciation for every step of the process. Running is about embracing the highs and the lows. Running is about fighting the battle within. Running is about inspiring others to overcome their own battles. Running is not just the surface act of left… right… left… right… left…right. Running is about all the things behind the scenes that make running worthwhile. It is not the act, it is the process. And for JJ LaPointe, he is simply blessed that he has more time with it all.