COLUMBIA — Getting to his bedroom was never so difficult.
For two weeks, Phil Bascio had to make his way up two flights of stairs at his East Campus apartment to take a bath and go to bed. He fell a few times during that period, but with only one good Achilles tendon, it was surprising that he had not tumbled more.
“I’m not used to hopping up two flights of stairs, ya know,” he said.
This was his life in the fall of 2010, his junior year at MU. A little over a year later, he would be back at the base of those stairs, looking at his destination, again with only one good leg to get him there.
Bascio, a fifth-year senior on the Missouri cross country team, is back on the course after missing the past two seasons while recovering from two separate surgeries on each of his Achilles tendons. He had the first procedure in October 2010 and the second a year later in November.
He will be traveling to Louisville, Ky., with the rest of the men’s and women’s teams this weekend when they compete in the 11th annual Greater Louisville Cross Country Classic. Races will take place on Saturday with the men set to begin at 9:30 a.m.
This will be Bascio’s biggest meet since placing 94th overall at the 2009 Big 12 Championships, completing the 8K race in 27 minutes, 59.76 seconds. He competed in track and field for two seasons and will finish his running career this spring.
Saying it has been a long road to this point would be an understatement.
The summer before his sophomore season in 2009, Bascio started to feel pain on the heel of his left foot while training. He had the assistant athletic trainer, Jennifer Artioli, check it out, and she had him sit out of practice for awhile to rest his foot. By the time the Big 12 Championships rolled around that November, he could barely make it through practices.
He opted for a platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, injection, which is a procedure that involves taking a patient’s blood and separating the plasma from red and white blood cells to spur tissue recovery due to growth factors in platelets. This plasma, which is rich with platelets, is then injected at the site of an injury, which in Bascio’s case was his heel on his left foot. Pro golfer Tiger Woods had a similar procedure after a slow recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament surgery a few years ago.
Bascio made it through the rest of his sophomore season but still suffered from a lingering pain in his foot. Later that summer, he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Haglund’s deformity, a condition where, according to the Foot Health Facts website, a “bony enlargement on the back of the heel forms” and irritates tissue near the Achilles tendon when the bump rubs against shoes.
His doctor gave him two options: he could either run through the pain or opt for a surgical procedure that would involve snipping the Achilles tendon.
He opted for the former.
But, by October 2010, his condition was not improving and he elected to have surgery. In the end, the surgeons did not have to snip the tendon, instead opting to chisel the bone down and reattach the tendon to the heel. Bascio was back running by winter break that school year. He competed in a few races for the track team that spring, but come summertime he was sensing pain again, this time on his other heel.
“Now they’re kind of saying ‘Hey, you only have two years left, maybe you can tough it out,’” he said, referring to the MU coaches.
By November 2011, he was back on the operating table and was having the exact same procedure on his right foot. His recovery took three months and on Jan. 1 he was back for good.
Missouri cross country coach Joe Lynn has been a key supporter of Bascio as he worked through the injuries and continued his career. He described him as a “great kid to have on the team” and a role model for the younger athletes.
Despite that, the two had a brief conversation last season about retirement before the second surgery.
Lynn said Bascio is the type of guy who never gives up and never quits, which is why it was difficult for him to suggest quitting the team.
“I wanted him to be able to play in the backyard with his kids,” Lynn said.
Bascio’s teammate and friend, senior Max Storms, shared that sentiment.
Storms said it was always sad to see the injury pop up again and again and would just tell Bascio to keep believing in himself and to keep trying. He added that it was great having Bascio back around.
“He’s an awesome guy,” Storms said.
After two seasons of watching from the sideline, whether it was on foot or in a wheelchair or crutches, Bascio is working his way “back up from the bottom” on a team that features a record 18 new male recruits this year.
“It’s almost like being one the top freshmen coming in,” he said. “The way running works, you get out of shape and you have to build that endurance all the way back up.
“Its not like you’re healthy again, you can go jump in a race and expect to do well.”
Although he has missed so many developmental opportunities over the past two years due to his injuries, Bascio is optimistic about this season for one, or two, reasons.
“I don’t have anymore feet to get injured.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.