By Grant Abston
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The night before her first collegiate cross-country meet, Lauren Salisbury was in the emergency room.
After having her wisdom teeth removed, an infection threatened to delay the freshman's Texas debut. She waited into the night to be cleared from the hospital.
"I was actually in the emergency room until 3 a.m. the night before and got some pain medication," Salisbury said. "From then on, it's kind of been a battle with injuries."
The senior from Pflugerville has dealt with injuries her entire UT career. But as her first meet illustrated, Salisbury is resilient. She leads a team looking for its first NCAA Championship appearance in six seasons.
One of six seniors on the Longhorns roster, Salisbury was part of head coach Steve Sisson's first recruiting class in 2006. A soccer player in high school, she made the switch to cross country following multiple soccer injuries and a talk a former Longhorn. Susan Murphy, Salisbury's head girls track coach at Pflugerville High School, was a UT standout in the late 1970s under her maiden name, Abernathy. She helped convince Salisbury to make the sport switch.
"She was just an awesome coach and she was just really inspirational," Salisbury said. "She kind of turned me to the running path and turned me over to (Texas)."
Salisbury wrote a letter to Texas expressing her interest and was recruited by former women's track and field assistant coach Len Klepack. Despite advancing to state in cross country her junior and senior years, Salisbury entered Texas as a relatively inexperienced runner.
Salisbury arrived on campus and began training during Sisson's first year in Austin. Salisbury had never run more than five miles at a time and a simple tasks like pre-meet warm-ups were a challenge.
"I remember my first meet at Texas State, Steve told us to go running and warm-up for twenty minutes," Salisbury said, "And I was just...I had no idea what to do."
Salisbury struggled early in the year, recovering from three stress fractures and an eroding bone that never healed properly after a break, but she finished seventh in her first event and didn't place out of the top five for Texas the rest of the year.
"There's absolutely nothing that's going to keep her from racing," Sisson said. "The one thing you know about Lauren is she'll be back, she'll never quit, she'll keep coming no matter what."
Salisbury remained one of Texas' most reliable runners throughout her sophomore and junior seasons, but continued to battle injuries. In January of 2009, a tweaked hamstring led to a bulging disc in her back and threatened to hamper her senior season. She spent the summer rehabbing and led Texas to wins in the first three races of her senior season.
"I think that one of the things that's been really interesting with Lauren is watching her develop more confidence, more strength as a runner, even as she has dealt with struggles and dealt with adversity," Sisson said. "I think she's proven that someone who puts hard work into something can be very good."
Salisbury says Sisson's passion for running and his coaching style has made the hard work easier and worthwhile.
"I still remember the first message I got from Steve, it said, 'Holla back at me,'" Salisbury said. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this coach is cool.' Ever since then, I knew it was going to be a good fit and he's definitely raised me in the running world and taught me how to be passionate about the sport."
Sisson points to personality along with her work ethic as reasons why Salisbury, who had two top 10 finishes this season, has been successful.
"One of the reasons she's been so successful is her sense of humor and her recognition that she doesn't make the world turn, she's just a piece of the puzzle on our team," Sisson said.
After a disappointing eighth-place finish at the Big 12 Cross Country Championship on Oct. 31, the Texas team is focusing on the NCAA South Central Regional Championship on Nov. 14. The Longhorns will be trying to qualify for their first NCAA Championship since 2003. Salisbury will use her experience to lead her teammates.
"Some days you have good days, some days you have bad days, but the key is that you're always going to wake up the next morning and you're going to run," Salisbury said.