Kiara McLaughlin is one of the best of the burgeoning Middle Distance Runners – a group of teenagers who are starting to beat the adults in road races – but a recent bout of tuberculosis has stalled her career for now.
Two months ago, the 16-year-old Caymanian caught a bad cough, could not sleep at night and had trouble breathing.
At the first 2-mile Fidelity Fun Run she was visibly in pain at the end. It was the start of her illness, which gradually got worse. She went back and forth to the Cayman Islands Hospital for two weeks, but doctors were not sure what was wrong.
“On Sept. 18, I was told I had tuberculosis on my lungs which explained the coughing and I was put in isolation right away,” she said. “Of course, I got emotional because I didn’t know what my next move was going to be or what was going to happen to me.”
Her main thought was to make a quick recovery and get back on the circuit, but the doctors said it could risk her life if she started running again too soon or stressed too much because she has holes in her lungs now and the recovery process is gradual.
“So, in the end, I will have scarred lungs and being a long-distance runner it’s going to be hard to get where I was a few months ago.”
Legendary runners like Haile Gebrselassie and Paula Radcliffe have learned to control their running-induced asthma throughout their careers and McLaughlin may have to find a way to cope in her post-illness career.
Running is the only sporting love for the UCCI student. She started running seriously aged 9, winning her first 800-meters race at the inter-primary championships. Numerous victories have followed and there is no time nor interest for anything else. “I take my sport way too seriously to dedicate my time to any other sports,” she said.
“What I enjoy about running the most is the excitement of a big race coming up and meeting new people away and locally.
“My running highlight has been the inter-high school championships, winning champion girl for four years straight.”
If she does have to give it up, McLaughlin feels there will be no interest in another sport. “It would break my heart too much but I will, of course, continue going to the gym and keeping fit.”
Training with the MDRs has been the best choice she’s made since becoming a long-distance runner, she said.
“We train as a family, we push each other in training and in competitions and by being a small group in Cayman and seeing the massive results, it’s amazing. I love my MDR family.”
The best MDR runners include Dominic Dyer, Will Edwards, Alex Logvinov, Delano Callender and Victor Magalhaes – and, when they’re not studying abroad, Tahj Lewis and Tiffany Cole. There is a second generation of MDRs coming through now.
Derek Larner is the chief MDR coach and McLaughlin claims he “is like my father.”
She added, “Coach Derek has never given up on me and he has been the person to motivate me and push me to continue track.
“He says he knows I will get back where I was soon, I just have to give it time and, by him telling me this, it does give me hope to recover fully.
“Coach Derek is a very understanding person and trains us not only to be the best we can be but to also love the sport as well.”
Larner practices what he preaches and competes at the highest level in international masters competitions. He was also one of the fastest runners in the team event at the Cayman triathlon on Sunday.
McLaughlin is hopeful that she will get the all-clear to compete in the Pirates Week 3-mile race in a couple of weeks. “I hope to at least run close to my time last year, maybe not faster, but close [enough] to know that … I’m improving and getting back.”
If she gets the chance to compete in Grenada, at CARIFTA 2016, McLaughlin hopes to achieve what she has been training for over the years, a medal in the 1,500m.
“In the past two CARIFTAs, I was one of the youngest girls in the group and came fifth both times,” she said. “Now, being older, I hope to place in the top three.”
Adrenaline pumping through the body is a common occurrence at the start of a sporting challenge. When McLaughlin first started competing, she felt like something was wrong “until my coach told me I was just nervous.” She hopes to continue experiencing that feeling for a lot longer yet.