PORTSMOUTH — Having a part of or a full season taken out of one’s control is quite painful.
However, it’s nothing compared to having a career jeopardized by one injury.
After suffering a serious injury during her freshman year while running inside the Shawnee State umbrella, Jessica Price felt it was best to step away from competitive running in order to regroup.
During her junior season, Price rejoined the Shawnee State cross country and track and field programs, looking to develop into a premier student-athlete.
Let’s just say she exceeded expectations — without much question.
Having gone from a individual not even running in the program to a NAIA National Qualifier in both cross country and indoor track and field, Price is truly one of the great success stories at Shawnee State.
However, that’s all been due to her hard work and skill set as a runner.
“Shawnee State has a lot to offer,” Price said. “You just have to put yourself out there. You can make so many lifelong friends and memories that will last forever; you just have to be active on campus and not be afraid to try new things. I was able to learn a lot inside and outside of the classroom, and I am truly thankful for that.”
At Fairland, Price enjoyed a storied career that led to the opportunity to pursue running at the collegiate level.
Price not only qualified for the OHSAA Division II state cross country championships her junior and senior seasons, but also became the second-fastest runner in the history of the Lady Dragons’ program.
“I was extremely blessed to come from a school like Fairland,” Price said. “My coaches were very supportive and always pushed us to be the best athletes and people that we could be. Fairland really sets its students up for success, and they’ve opened a lot of doors for me. I couldn’t be more thankful for my high school coaches.”
With Shawnee State having as much success recruiting Fairland as any other place around from a running standpoint, it didn’t take Price long to follow suit — and join in on the growing tradition that Eric Putnam has developed in his 15 years at SSU.
“(Eric) Putnam came to our high school cross country camp and talked to us there,” Price said. “A lot of my former teammates signed to run at Shawnee State, so I was really familiar with the school and liked what SSU represented.”
However, Price’s running journey took an unfortunate audible.
As the Lawrence County native began the process of training to run and become a scoring piece to the unit during her freshman season, she began suffering ankle instability, where ligaments that kept her ankles stabilized were stretched out due to overuse — forcing ankle rolls.
Once all set to contribute and possibly become a scoring runner as a freshman, Price’s ankle problems forced her to undergo surgery to restabilize the ankle in December 2015.
Despite missing nearly two full seasons due to injury, Price returned to run for Shawnee State in the fall of 2017 and set respectable times by most standards, running a 20:55 in her first race back and scoring a top-15 finish.
However, for an individual that ran in the mid-19 second range while at Fairland during her best seasons, the results upon coming back were frustrating to say the least.
“It was super frustrating for me because when I started racing again, I couldn’t even run close to my high school times,” Price said. “I was really disappointed with myself. There were definitely some times where I thought it wasn’t going to work out, and that I should probably just quit. However, I made some really good friends on the team and decided to stick it out.”
After battling through her initial season back in cross country, and lowering her time by nearly 50 seconds from the season’s opening meet to the NAIA National Championships in 2017, Price’s hard work to get back began to pay off in big ways.
During the 2018 indoor track campaign, Price reeled off seven top-10 finishes in her eight races prior to the Mid-South Conference Championships.
Then at the MSC Championships, she was part of the school’s conference championship-winning distance medley relay unit that ran a 13:02.67.
It was part of four finishes that Price had during conference competition that were of at least sixth place or better during the weekend meet.
The outdoor season proved to be just as fruitful — if not more so.
Following a runner-up finish in the 800-meter run at the Charleston (W. Va.) Relays and Alumni Invitational, Price posted her breakthrough moment by running a blistering 19:12.93 in the 5,000-meter run at the WashU Meet in St. Louis, Mo.
It blew away all of her previous fast marks in a 5,000-meter run to that point — and proved that she was back to form.
She closed out her resilient 2017-18 campaign by contributing to her second MSC Championship in a relay event — winning the 4-by-800.
“I really just felt great from a running standpoint after the meet at Washington University,” Price said. “That was the turning point for me. After that, I didn’t really doubt myself much. I just worked on getting better and seeing what else that I could improve on.”
That’s been evident throughout Price’s career ever since she came back from adversity.
In the fall of 2018, Price ran under 19:30 in the 5K during her last four meets to close out the year, then followed up the cross country season by producing six top-five finishes between the indoor and outdoor track campaigns, while helping the indoor distance medley relay unit qualify for the NAIA National Championships in March 2019 — where the unit ultimately produced a ninth-place national finish.
This past season, however, was easily Price’s best.
After running an outstanding 18:32.99 at the Harrison Dillard Twilight Meet to close out the 2019 track and field season, Price followed up by going on an absolute tear during the 2019-20 campaign.
In cross country, Price ran every race in the 5K in under 19:30 and, at the MSC Championships, ran a personal-best 18:57 to finish as the conference’s runner-up to teammate Brooke Smith.
She’d later run a 19:06 at the NAIA National Championships to finish a strong 63rd-place overall.
Then, in indoor track, Price proved to be a one-person wrecking crew.
During the 2020 schedule, Price set NAIA National Standard times in three different events — the one mile, the 3,000-meter run and the 5,000-meter run — all while finishing in the top-five in each of the eight indoor events that she competed in.
She also won the MSC Championships in the mile (5:20.31) and the 3,000-meter run (11:02.80), while finishing as the conference runner-up in the 5,000 meters (18:29.32).
Motivated by her NAIA National ‘A’ Standard in the 5,000-meter run, Price arguably ran the race of her life at the 2020 NAIA Indoor National Championships, posting a personal-best 17:41.86 in the preliminaries to qualify for the national finals in the 5,000.
She ultimately finished 10th in that race, running an 18:18.05 in her first-ever national qualifying event from an individual standpoint in indoor competition.
In just over two years, Price had gone from a runner returning from serious surgery to a national name across the NAIA realm — all due to her relentlessness and work in training, both before and after coming back to running.
“It was hard for me to get back to a competitive level after taking so much time off,” Price said. “I definitely had to put a lot more time and effort into it. Running in college is a whole different atmosphere than running in high school. I put in a lot more miles and did a lot of strengthening exercises, core and injury prevention exercises now. That was something I definitely didn’t do in high school.”
Academically, Price also performed well in the classroom.
The senior finished with over 140 hours of credit and with a 3.07 GPA in biology, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in the field as well as with a minor in history.
As she looks toward the future, Price knows that her success has come — in large part — due to her willingness to keep pushing through the trials and tribulations.
If her struggles and success have taught her anything, it’s that it’s always important to not only prepare, but enjoy the moment and look at the glass from a half-full perspective.
“I learned that I shouldn’t take anything for granted,” Price said. “Running is not always great for me, and I have a lot of bad runs, even now. However, I’m grateful for every run now, whether it’s good or bad, and I think that my journey from not being able to run to where I am now has a lot to do with that.”