The Rhode Island Interscholastic League Outdoor Track & Field Championships featured its usual array of outstanding and national-level performances, something that has become customary over the last decade for Little Rhody
But on the boys’ side, there was one familiar face that was missing on the track oval at Brown Stadium. It was a face that belonged to someone who certainly had potential to make quite a few visits to the victory stand that was situated on the infield.
Wearing a boot on his left leg, the result of a freak injury that was detected just a few weeks ago, was one of the most noticeable spectators at the six-hour meet - at least to those familiar with high school track and field in R.I. - Chariho Regional senior Mike Marsella.
The multiple all-stater and nationally-ranked distance runner was healing a ganglion cyst on his left arch, a painful swelling that often appears in joints and tendons in the foot (or hand). The cyst was diagnosed about two weeks ago, and because of its location has forced Marsella to resort to bicycling and pool workouts, instead of pounding the pavement.
“(It’s) deep in his arch,” longtime Chariho coach Bill Habarek said. “If it was on the surface, they would just numb it up, put a needle in it and pull the fluid out. Because it’s deep in his arch, they are afraid to put a needle in it. We haven’t been able to find anyone that can aspirate it, and just relieve the pain. It is also on his left foot and he pronates a little bit on his left foot. He is going to need orthotics down the road.”
When healthy, the University of Virginia-bound Marsella has produced some electrifying performances over the past two years in the middle and long distance events. Just recently, he came close to cracking nine minutes for the two mile with a state record of 9 minutes, 0.9 seconds (US # 21) at the Southern Track Classic at UVA on May 12. In the winter, he was second in the High School Boys’ Invitational at the Millrose Games and also anchored the Chargers’ 4x1 mile relay that established a national mark of 17:20.20 at the New Balance Indoor Nationals.
Marsella, who has a best of 3:51 for the 1,500 and 1:53 for the 800, was somewhat disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to help his teammates defend their state title. Despite its star runner’s absence, Chariho still nearly won their third consecutive track crown (outdoor, indoor), falling just three points short of eventual state titlist North Kingstown.
“It’s never easy to watch the state meet, especially when you can do some damage at it,” said Marsella, prior to the first event. “It will be fun to watch the guys hopefully defend the state championship. It will be cool to watch it instead of always stressing about it. But it’s definitely going to be tough.”
It was at the beginning of the season that Marsella sensed something was wrong with his arch, but he was still able to compete at a top level, evident by his two mile at the Southern Track Classic. The problem then got worse and came to a head at the Class A Championship on May 19.
“I had like an arch problem for at least a month,” he said. “I ran the two mile with it and it was still a problem. Finally, after a while, I just compensated too much and got some stress reactions under the ball of my foot and stuff. I finally got an MRI and they found a big ganglion cyst.”
Marsella competed in the class meet and ran the anchor on the school’s winning 4x800 relay. In the 3,000, he wasn’t quite as fortunate, struggling to an uncharacteristically slow 9:25.5 effort.
“The class meet it flared up,” he said. “It’s really like a stress reaction that went to my toe. The ganglion cyst I can kind of run through. There’s a lot of discomfort. The stress reaction, that’s kind of the reason that I am not running today. That really flared up during the class.”
“He told me a couple of months ago, ‘It feels like I am running on the side of my foot.’ Because of that, he has two stress reactions; not stress fractures, but stress reactions,” Habarek stated. “They are hot spots. In other words, they are acting up.”
The good news is that Marsella has been able to stay fit, despite not running.
“With everything that has happened to Mike in the last two weeks, he’s continued to train in the water and on the bike,” Habarek said. “A typical routine is 45 minutes of biking, 45 minutes in the water. He is swimming in lakes now. He’s scaring me. He is kind of liking swimming.”
This is not the first time Marsella was forced to the pool. Some discomfort in his foot led him to do it the week leading up to the Penn Relays in April. Still he managed to anchor his team to a fourth-place finish and state record of 7:46.26 in the 4x800 Championship of America race at Penn. The gifted runner and his coach believe he will be ready to run the New Balance Outdoor Nationals on June 16 where the Chargers will attempt an assault at the national outdoor mark in the 4x1 mile relay.
“I feel like the pool workouts are keeping me in shape,” he said. “I think I am ready to run a triathlon when I get out. I think it will be alright for nationals. Coming out of the pool (before the Penn Relays) I ran a 1:53 in the 800 and 3:51 in the 1,500. That’s with all pool workouts. If I can replicate (the 1,500) at nationals, that’s a 4:08 (mile).”
“We are hoping, the doctors are hoping, that being in the pool and on the bike and not pounding – it has been two weeks since the class meet – he’ll be okay for the nationals,” Habarek said. “There is a possibility he can run one race and that will be it.”
Marsella is determined that he’ll be ready for the nationals and is pretty confident that he and his teammates (Bryce Kelley, Dan Kilcoyne, Jake Kilcoyne) can do some damage.
“Really, if it wasn’t for (the relay), I wouldn’t be doing anything at nationals, just rest it up. Individually, I don’t really think I want to do anything. My teammates are kind of looking up to me,” he said. “If we take all of our PRs, we have the national record. We just got to do it all in the same race. It’s going to be tough, but we can do it.”