The last 15 months may have been the most difficult of Hassan Mead’s career.
It started in 2009 as a nagging Achilles’ tendon injury. In the fall of 2010, it appeared that the six-time All-American in track and cross country was ready to return.
But then, another setback — Mead suffered a collapsed lung on Sept. 3 during a standard training run. He was sidelined for nearly another five months.
“I didn’t really expect that long of a setback,” he said of the succession of injuries. “In this sport you kind of expect to have some bumps in the long road. It happened, and now all I can do is take time and do what is right to overcome this.”
Mead made his unofficial comeback to the track Jan. 22 at the Jack Johnson Classic, and after his performance at last weekend’s Drake Relays, it looks as if he has finally returned to full form.
Though Mead was forced to redshirt the entire 2010 season, an agonizing absence from competition, he said he understands that injuries are a part of everyday life.
“He’s reacted to the challenge in a positive way,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. “Initially when he was in the hospital there were a couple times he got down from what I saw, but in regards to staying positive, he’s really skilled at that.”
It helped that Mead had the support of two families.
“It was incredible how much support I got from my teammates,” Mead said. “Along with my relatives, my team was like another family.
“I remember one of the nurses asking me if I wanted an extra room because I had so many visitors. It kept my mind from wandering around and getting frustrated with myself, so I couldn’t thank them enough for being there when I needed them.”
Back on the track, Mead repaid his team’s support in a way only he can.
As the anchor leg of the the distance medley relay at the Drake Relays, he proved he has regained his burst when he pulled away from Wisconsin’s Rob Finnerty and fended off Iowa’s Jeff Thodein the final 100 meters to win the race.
Did the outing represent a return to form?
“Yeah,” Plasencia said. “I feel like everything is taken a day at a time so we just kind of approach it on a day at a time basis.”
Yet even after his race at the Drake Relays, Plasencia said Mead’s comeback is far from complete.
“He’s done so many things in his previous seasons,” he said. “His comeback is not going to be written yet because he has to equal and surpass some of the things he’s done before, before he really feels like he’s back.”
Mead agreed and said he knows there are still ways he can improve coming off his back-to-back injuries.
“It’s coming along — the speed is coming along — and the more we race and the more we get going here towards the end of the season, it’s definitely going to connect and it’s going to be there,” Mead said.
Although missing an entire season was undoubtedly a setback, it is some consolation that Mead received a medical hardship waiver and will be eligible next season.
“We haven’t given up on this season either, because obviously he can still do some good things this season,” Plasencia said. “I’m very, very happy he’s going to be around another year.”
Once Mead laces up his shoes for the final time in a Gophers uniform, Plasencia said there will be further track opportunities in front of him.
“I think he would like to continue to see how far his talents in running take him, so I’m sure he’s going to continue to run seriously after college, provided the next year and a half goes smoothly,” Plasencia said.
Mead echoed the notion of possibly competing at the next level but realized there is still work to take care of this season.
“There is potential outside of that, but at this point I’m just taking it one step at a time because we really don’t know what can come next,” Mead said. “There is definitely the chance of doing something post-collegiate, but right now the Big Ten meet is next, and that is what we are focusing on.”