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Fame Fades: Star Runner Crippled by Injuries

October 29, 1987|RAY RIPTON | Times Staff Writer

Whatever happened to Eric Reynolds, who was considered by some to be the nation's top high school distance runner in 1983?

That's a painful question, especially for Reynolds. But first, how good was he?

At Camarillo High School, Reynolds twice was the CIF champion at 3,200 meters (the metric two-mile) and won the CIF 4-A individual cross-country title in 1982. He also was the state 3,200-meter champion in 1982.

In 1983, his senior year at Camarillo, he won the Kinney national cross-country championship and ran an 8:44 two-mile, then the sixth-fastest time ever recorded by a prep runner, while competing against more advanced runners in the UCLA/Pepsi meet.

Bob Larsen, UCLA head track and cross-country coach, recruited Reynolds for UCLA, thinking that the youngster had greatness in him. In 1983, Larsen was quoted as saying that Reynolds was "clear-cut the best high school distance runner in the nation."

Herb Potter, his coach at Camarillo High, was quoted as saying that Reynolds "is really one of a kind. I mean he's the kind of kid that comes along once in a lifetime if you're lucky."

There was talk of breaking records, of competing in the 1984 Olympics.

But that was before Reynolds, now a fifth-year senior at UCLA, ran into a lifetime of bad luck, into a series of injuries that have prevented him from completing one track or cross-country season in the past four years.

He has been so plagued by injuries, he said, that "I haven't been able to consistently perform at all. I've never been able to train enough and get into good shape to race effectively."

In his freshman year at UCLA, he said, he was bothered by a "shin-splint syndrome that was kind of chronic, that would never go away. It was kind of a structural problem. I have real high arches, and (when he runs) my heels pronate, or roll in, excessively."

After his freshman year, surgeons operated on his left shin and scraped away scar tissue. He redshirted the following year.

In preparing to return to competition in 1985, he injured a knee while running at a training camp in Yosemite. He said that he probably should have stopped running for a few weeks to let the knee heal, but he continued to run on it. Though he had another operation to remove inflamed tissue in his knee, he was troubled by pain throughout the cross-country and track seasons.

To correct his foot-strike problem, he said, he experimented with different kinds of orthotics, corrective devices worn inside shoes and commonly used by distance runners.

"But it took a lot of experimentation to find the right set (of orthotics)," he said. And a lot of learning through pain.

"In four years, rarely a day goes by that I can go out and run without pain. I'm a fifth-year senior and I haven't been able to complete one season."

He hopes to complete his final year of college, and he is the captain of the cross-country team this season. But even though he is running, and running well for one with his medical history, pain has not been a stranger.

Recently he has been bothered by a sore quadriceps muscle in his leg. Though he ran and finished in 27th place at the Oct. 17 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo invitational cross-country meet, Coach Larsen said that "up until the last few minutes I thought he shouldn't run.

"But, overall, it was a good showing, considering how he felt, and (by Monday) he should be ready for the (Pacific 10) conference meet at Stanford."

Reynolds has had better showings in cross-country this season. He finished ninth in a UCLA all-comers meet, 13th at the Fresno State invitational and 15th at the Stanford invitational.

Larsen said that it hasn't been easy for Reynolds to settle for less than being first.

"It's difficult for a person who has enjoyed the very highest achievement at one point in his life to then turn around and have to work very hard just to be competitive with runners that he knows he would easily beat if he could work out as much as they did," Larsen said.

He said that Reynolds has been lucky if he could run 30 to 35 miles a week in training on the rare occasions when he has not been bothered by injuries but that good distance runners regularly do 70 miles a week or more in their workouts.

"I really respect him for hanging in there and continuing to be as competitive as he possibly can be," Larsen said. "This fall, finally now, he's had his best races by far and his longest uninterrupted workout base.

"I'm real optimistic, if his legs can stay healthy through the end of the year, that he will be pushing some of the best runners" at the Pac-10 meet and at the Nov. 14 NCAA District 8 Championships at Fresno.

"I feel that he could definitely have a very good track season in the spring if he can continue to train now without major interruptions," Larsen added.

Major Interruptions could be a nickname for Reynolds, so it is not surprising when he says that he is taking the short view on distance running these days, that he approaches running one step at a time.

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