COLUMBIA — Nicole Mello grew up in an athletic household.
Her father is a former swim coach for the MU program and also competes in triathlons and marathons. Her older sister is a sophomore swimmer for MU, and she and her twin sister swim together at Hickman High School.
But Mello is a little different than her sisters. She caught the running bug from her father in the sixth grade and has been competing ever since.
After running with the Columbia Colts youth track team in middle school, Nicole Mello joined the Hickman Kewpies cross country team as a freshman. She was a strong performer from the start. But her sophomore year didn't go smoothly. A few weeks before the district cross country meet in the fall of 2010, Mello was faced with an injury.
“The doctors finally figured out it was a stress on the metatarsal bone of my foot, almost like a stress fracture. They told me to baby it, or it’d turn into a stress fracture,” Mello explained.
Doctors put a protective boot on her foot, and she was mobile only with the aid of crutches. She was forced to stay in shape by swimming and riding a stationary bike.
But she still qualified for the state championship despite her injury because her coach had given her permission to run at the district and sectional meets.
Mello arrived at the state meet with crutches she had decorated with purple spray paint and silver rhinestones, which she said made quite an impression. She removed the boot, set the crutches aside and warmed up on a stationary bike her father brought for her. They placed it on the starting line, so she biked alongside other girls who were running across the field to warm up.
“My favorite part was probably my dad carrying me to the starting line and warming up on the stationary bike,” Mello said. “I thought, I’m just gonna try and do my thing, go out there and see if anything is possible.”
As it turned out, anything was possible. Even with her injured foot, she finished 11th out of 173 in the girls varsity race.
“Once I crossed the finish line at state, I was so happy I started crying. I didn’t even focus on my foot, I was just so happy that I did even better than freshman year,” Mello said.
After the meet, she spent the next couple weeks recovering fully from her injury. She continued to use her boot and crutches until Hickman’s swim season started.
Madison May, who Mello said is her best friend on the Hickman cross country team, said she was impressed by Mello's performance at state last year.
“If she can do it on a broken foot, then I can suck it up and run a little bit farther and a little bit harder,” May said.
This season brings a lot of hope for Mello. She’s healed, healthy and ready to achieve her goals. She started well, winning her first race of the year last Saturday at the Missouri Cross Country Challenge.
“I trained hard this summer, so I have a little bit of background base and hopefully I’ll be able to go out there this season and train even harder,” Mello said.
The Kewpies are preparing to run at Hazelwood Central this weekend. Mello said she was excited, but that’s no surprise because she gets excited for every meet.
“I really like them all, there’s no one that I like more than the other. A few have more challenges than the others,” she said. “I just love the whole racing atmosphere, so whenever I get up to the line, it’s really what I enjoy most.”
Mello is also making sure that she is taking precautions to stay healthy.
“I do many exercises and always focus on how I’m running, my form, how my foot hits the ground. I’m very focused on that,” she said. “Being an athlete, you’re prone to injury of course, but you can do as much as you can to prevent the injuries.”
With a strong start this fall, Mello has made several personal goals for herself.
“My goal is just to place at state this year. I want to get all-state again — hopefully higher ranked,” she said. “But really I just want to finish off well, and I want to stay healthy throughout the season.”