Riley was diagnosed with Uveitis in both eyes at age 9, and she eventually lost vision entirely in her left eye. Undeterred, Riley learned how to play lacrosse in eighth grade.. “I was legally blind for two seasons of (varsity) lacrosse,” she says. “It really affects your depth perception. It was hard.” Despite not being able to see out of one eye, Riley was a high scorer as a sophomore and started most games in the center position. After several eye surgeries, Riley finally has perfect vision again.
Encouraged by her mother, who ran in high school, Riley tried out for cross-country her freshman year. Riley loved cross-country and proved that she had the potential to be a really good runner. During last summer, Riley went to a running camp with Lynn Jennings, the 1992 bronze medalist in the Olympic 10,000 meter. Riley was having a strong start to her junior cross-country season when she began feeling pain in her joints.
“My ankles, knees, and my joints, even my wrists, hurt when I was running, and that’s not normal.” Riley remembers. “I knew that I could keep up with my teammates like Quinn, (who placed 3rd at the Division I Vermont State Championships). We used to run together everyday in practice, but I just wasn’t doing it in races anymore or in practices, and I didn’t know why. That was in the middle of my season.” Riley continues, “Cross-country was really hard this fall, harder than it had ever been, so we went in to the doctors, and I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.”
Riley was also diagnosed with lumbar-area spondylolysis, a sometimes debilitating lower-back (arthritic) condition, in addition to her psoriatic arthritis, which is primarily in her wrists and achilles tendons. “I really don’t like taking medication that I don’t have to take. I tried one type of medication for the Manchester Invitational, but it didn’t really do anything.” Riley says. “It’s frustrating because I want to be good, and you can’t be good if you have to keep missing a few weeks at a time, but I can’t predict it.”
Riley is thankful for her coach, Chip Langmaid, who is someone Riley relied on for support last season. “He tells a lot of good stories. He used to race a lot, and I learn a lot from his stories. He’s intense, but he understands, and he lets you know your body and learn how to run.” Riley says. “He knows my potential. He knows that I know that I can run faster, but my body won’t let me do it. We both get pretty frustrated, but he still pushes me even when I suck.”
In fact, Riley didn’t suck. Despite having to take time off in the middle of her season, Riley had some impressive races this fall. “My fastest cross-country race last season was at Peoples Academy,” she says. At Peoples, Riley covered the 5K course in around 21 minutes. A few weeks later, Riley ran through her pain and placed 26th at the Division I State Championships where she was the 5th point scorer on her team, helping the St. Johnsbury Hilltoppers claim second place in Vermont, finishing only behind Champlain Valley Union, the fastest team in all of New England the previous year.
Looking to the future, Riley is as committed to cross-country as ever, even with the additional pain it causes her. “I think next season, I’ll have a better handle on it, because it kinda happened in the middle of my season,” she said.
Riley is also a standout on the indoor track. “I just started pole vaulting last winter, but I have our school record, and I just broke it a few weeks ago.” Riley’s record is 7 feet, but she isn’t content to let it stay there. Riley hopes to continue to improve on her record this winter and possibly next spring, if she decides to focus on outdoor track. Pole vaulting can be somewhat dangerous at times. “If you don’t go fast enough, then you can land back down on the runway.” Riley laughs and says this has happened to her a few times. Riley loves indoor track so much that she in considering continuing this spring on the outdoor track rather that playing lacrosse. “I’ve only run the 600 meter twice, but I think it’s my favorite event.”
Riley’s arthritis has improved recently. She had her first race January 13 at the Dartmouth relays after being sick for several weeks. At Dartmouth, Riley ran on St. Johnsbury’s 4-x-400 and 4-x-800 meter relays as well as running the open 600 meter. Ultimately, Riley faces physical pain and uncertainty every time she toes the line at the start of a race or a lacrosse game. Her willpower and perseverance are inspiring to those around her.