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Prior to the start of the 2015 season, York Suburban girls' cross country coach Dan VanHouwe pulled Emma Leik aside and handed her a varsity jersey.

The jersey was a symbol, Leik said, to let her know that she was still a key member of his team. Van Houwe wanted to remind the senior of how good she can be and how far she had come.

Seven weeks ago, racing or running at all seemed like a longshot to Leik, who was a 2014 GameTimePA first-team all star after anchoring the Trojans to a District 3 Class AA title. While training in July, Leik started to feel a constant burning sensation in both of her calf muscles and began losing feeling in her feet. After consulting with doctors, Leik learned she had a condition she had never heard of — chronic exertional compartment syndrome. The syndrome had caused pressure to build up in the calf muscle in each of her legs, limiting blood flow.

The syndrome, which would require surgery and an extensive rehab process, threatened to end Leik's senior campaign before it even started.

"I was pretty upset because I thought I was going to be missing out," Leik said. "Then, my doctor told me I would have a chance to be back to normal before the end of the season, but that I would have to work hard, so that at least gave me hope there was a possibility to return."

With that hope of a potential return in mind, Leik and her coaches circled a Sept. 22 race at Fairfield on the calendar as her target return date.

Leik underwent successful surgery on Aug. 5 — three weeks before the start of the season — then patiently waited through a week on crutches and three weeks with no physical activity, followed by three weeks of strenuous rehab and training.

Still, VanHouwe was hesitant to let Leik run.

"I didn't want a bad experience to lower her enthusiasm," VanHouwe said. "But Emma reassured me that racing was the right thing for the moment. She was right."

Leik had her own mental hurdle to clear.

"I was a little cautious too because I was afraid (my legs) might get hurt," she admitted. "But I talked to my parents and we agreed that if I placed in last place, then doing that would still be better than not placing at all."

Leik didn't finish last. She finished 30th, and her teammates, who helped support and motivate Leik throughout the process, hugged her when she crossed the finish line.

"I learned that I need to be grateful for what I have because after I had to stop running, I realized how much running and my team meant to me," said Leik, who wants to run all of the team's remaining races in hopes of returning to all-star form. "Without them, I wouldn't have had the motivation to make it back this season."

RECORD-BREAKING MADDIES >> Elsewhere in Division II, a pair of all-stars have been rewriting the history books in September. Eastern York's Maddie McLain and Kennard-Dale's Maddie Ferner both broke course records this month. McLain blazed a new course record at Reservoir Hill, finishing in 20:14.5, then a week later, the sophomore broke Kady Shrann's previous course record at Delone Catholic by more than five seconds.

Ferner also bumped Shrann's name off the record book, when she broke the former York Catholic standout's course record at Kennard-Dale by 36 seconds.

DIVISION I TITLE COULD COME DOWN TO THE WIRE >> With Red Lion and Central York tied atop the division and Dallastown lurking just a half step behind, the division title could come down to an Oct. 13 race at Central.

"It will be an exciting race, and it's going to come down to which team is best prepared and rises to the challenge," Lions head coach Nate Stetter said. "We haven't discussed it at this point because it's a few weeks away, but I am sure the girls have it circled on the calendar."

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