COLUMBIA — Protective boots and crutches aren't slowing down runners Caleb Wilfong and Nicole Mello.
About a month ago, Wilfong, a junior runner for Rock Bridge, and Mello, a sophomore runner for Hickman, were diagnosed with foot injuries. Wilfong had a stress reaction in his right foot, while Mello had a stressed metatarsal bone, also in her right foot. But neither is calling it quits.
Instead of running every day in preparation for Saturday's Class 4 state cross-country championships, Wilfong and Mello have been training by swimming and biking.
Wilfong won the Class 4, Sectional 3 boys race in Camdenton to help the Bruins qualify as a team for the state meet with a second-place finish. The Rock Bridge girls team also qualified with a fourth-place finish. Mello was one of two individual qualifiers for Hickman, finishing seventh in the girls race. Devin Sander was 13th in the boys race for the Kewpies.
Wilfong trains three out of six days. He will swim two days, bike for one and then run the remaining three days. Mello, who uses a pair of purple crutches decorated with rhinestones, has run only two times since her injury — first in district competition and then in the sectional race.
Before the Class 4, District 5 race in Washington, Mo., Mello said she didn’t know what to expect because she had been training at the pool. But she won with a time nearly 30 seconds faster than the runner-up. It was the second time she had won a district title.
“I warmed up on the stationary bike at the starting line, and now I know what to expect,” Mello said.
Wilfong, who began running track in eighth grade, has been to the state cross-country championships for the past two years and placed 15th last season. He said his goal this year is to come in first.
“I want to overcome my injury and go out knowing my injury had nothing to do with my performance … No excuses,” Wilfong said. "Its just frustrating to run when you're not 100 percent."
Mello began running for the Columbia Track Club the summer before she entered sixth grade and started swimming for the Columbia Swim Team when she was 5.
“I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t run … it’s fun and enjoyable,” Mello said.
While Wilfong and Mello said they enjoy running, they both said they started because their fathers were runners.
“My dad had always done marathons, and I look up to him and wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Mello said.
Her father, Cesar Mello, said he just wants his daughter to be successful.
"It's nice to have my kids look up to me, but I just want them to have a great experience," Cesar Mello said.
Nicole Mello said her father's support has helped her be confident in her abilities.
“I will go out and run with all I have left," she said. "My dad told me to run with my heart, and that’s what I will do.”
The state championships are scheduled for Saturday at Oak Hills Golf Center in Jefferson City. The Class 4 girls race is set for 9 a.m. and the Class 4 boys race is set for 10:15 a.m.