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Posted February 8, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Back on track

Krista DeCeault Illinois St.jpg
Former Sherando standout Krista DeCeault, right, runs in a recent indoor track meet for Illinois State. DeCeault's college career is on track after more than a year-long layoff as she struggled with anorexia. She hopes to spread awareness of the illness by sharing her story. Photo Courtesy of Illinois State Athletics Communications

Sherando's Krista DeCeault - Girls Track Athlete of the Year
Krista DeCeault, who won the Group AA state title in the 3,200 and finished second in the 1,600 as a senior, was The Northern Virginia Daily's 2011 Female Track Athlete of the Year. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Former Sherando star DeCeault running again after long struggle with anorexia

By Jeff Nations

There's something Krista DeCeault wants you to know, and this is the most important part.

In mind and body, spirit and health, the former Sherando High School standout runner is in a good place, right now, at this very moment.

There's something else she wants you to know, too -- not so long ago, DeCeault was far from that place.

DeCeault is back running for Illinois State University, competing now in the indoor track and field season as a distance runner. That was the plan all along. Missing more than a year of collegiate competition as she battled an eating disorder most certainly was not.

"Recovery is all about having a positive attitude and looking at the whole picture of my health, and just working hard to stay healthy," DeCeault said. "I take it day by day. I am blessed to have the people in my life -- my family, my coaches and my friends -- who have helped me through it.

"I'm a very faithful person, and I think for my struggle God chose me because he knew I could get through it and help other people who are struggling with this."

That struggle first emerged during DeCeault's senior season at Sherando. It was sometime in February, during Sherando's abbreviated indoor track season, that Warriors cross country coach Tim Ritter noticed a significant drop in his star runner's weight. DeCeault's mother, Cheryl, came to the same conclusion -- something wasn't right -- one night at home when she noticed how thin Krista's arms had become.

The eventual diagnosis, anorexia nervosa, came as a shock.

"I didn't know what happened to me," DeCeault said. "It kind of snuck up on me toward the end of my senior year."

Armed with that knowledge and awareness, DeCeault seemed to recover from that initial brush with anorexia. She had completed an outstanding indoor season by winning the Group AA state championship in the 3,200-meter run and set a new personal-best in the mile, clocking an impressive 5 minutes, 6.77 seconds in that race.

DeCeault had recovered from that troubling weight loss enough to run during the outdoor season, and again she excelled on the track -- in nearly every measure, she was never better as a runner. At the Group AA state outdoor track and field meet in the spring of 2010, DeCeault was simply phenomenal. She won a state championship in the 3,200 with a personal-best time of 10:33.21 and finished second in the 1,600 with another personal-best time of 4:57.67 -- both new school records.

By then, DeCeault was looking forward to running in the fall for Illinois State. She had been up front with the coaching staff there about her trouble with anorexia, a conversation that she somewhat dreaded but nevertheless felt compelled to have.

Ritter said she's "certainly not the first person -- male or female -- who's had to deal with this and she certainly won't be the last. She's dealing with it head-on."

From her performance during that freshman season running cross country for the Redbirds, it likely would have been next to impossible for an outsider to realize the struggle DeCeault was going through on a daily basis. In meets, she was fantastic. Running in her very first collegiate meet, the Hawkeye Invitational in Iowa City, Iowa, DeCeault won the 4K event in 14:19.06.

More victories followed as DeCeault became firmly established as the Redbirds' No. 1 runner. DeCeault captured the Illinois Intercollegiate Championships, a 5K, with a personal-best winning time of 17:09. She won the Bradley Classic 6K championship with a personal-best time of 20:56.15. Three races, three victories ... by all outward appearances, the season couldn't be going better for DeCeault.

Then in late October 2011, DeCeault came through for Illinois State once again. Running in the Missouri Valley Conference championship meet, DeCeault delivered a second-place finish in 17:40, earning All-MVC honors and helping her team win its first conference championship since 1992. DeCeault, along with her teammates, qualified to run in the NCAA Midwest Regional Meet based on that performance.

It didn't happen.

Instead, DeCeault came home to get help and get healthy. She spent weeks in the hospital, recovering from another sudden weight drop related to anorexia. She spent more time as an outpatient, regularly receiving treatment and therapy to rebuild her strength.

The once-promising running career that DeCeault had worked so hard to build, the hours and hours on the road, the miles and miles logged -- did any of it matter any more?

It did, it really did.

•••

There's something Jeff Bovee wants you to know, and this is the most important part.

Krista DeCeault is an inspiration to know, to watch, to coach.

The veteran collegiate distance running coach, who guided DeCeault's first cross country season at Illinois State and is now doing the same as she works back into competitive running during the indoor track season, has seen eating disorders affect runners, even his runners, to varying degrees at times in his career. Mostly the issue comes up in women's running, but it can affect men as well.

"There's no doubt Krista's got a ton of talent," Bovee said. "She has the tools to do some big things in this sport."

That talent is obvious, even if DeCeault's personal struggle with anorexia is not. The support and understanding offered by Bovee, Illinois State track coach Elvis Forde and the rest of DeCeault's college coaches and teammates have been vital in her recovery.

DeCeault said that throughout the whole process, it's been unbelievable how supportive coach Bovee and coach Forde have been. "Not once did they ever give up on me, which is so encouraging," she said.

"... Coach Ritter has been amazingly supportive, as well. He helped me through some really tough times."

That support began in high school, and transitioned halfway across the country at Illinois State. It didn't waver, not even when DeCeault had to stop and come home.

Cheryl DeCeault said her daughter was very fortunate that she went to Illinois State.

"They've worked with her on her recovery. They assured us they wanted her back and healthy, and they would have a place for her on the team," she said.

That support -- that motivation -- helped speed Krista DeCeault's recovery. She was back running, on her own, within months. She ran a 10K, then a 5K, and some other events along the way. Always a strong student in the classroom, she had to finish up her course work at Lord Fairfax Community College.

Cheryl DeCeault said Illinois State was wonderful as far as working all that out. "She started back at Lord Fairfax and she made straight A's."

In January, Krista DeCeault was back on campus in Normal, Ill. Already this indoor track season, DeCeault has competed in three meets. She posted a 13th-place finish (10:42.68) in the 3,200 at the Wisconsin Elite Invitational on Jan. 19, was 14th (5:23.23) in the one-mile run at the Redbird Invitational a week later, and most recently was fifth in the 5,000 meters at the Keck Invitational (hosted by Illinois Wesleyan) on Feb. 1.

Bovee noted that they are excited to get her back running again this track season. "She's getting some experience, getting her feet wet again," he said.

" ... She's had some health issues and we've been making sure she's healthy and strong. We've been bringing her back slowly, making sure she's ready to go."

•••

There's something Tim Ritter wants you to know, and this is the most important part.

The struggle he's witnessed DeCeault face with such grace and courage is not so very uncommon, not in running, not in high school, not even in this area. He, like Bovee, has seen this before. In Ritter's experience coaching runners, those most at risk are often the athletes who have achieved at least some level of success in the sport. In other words, runners very much like Krista DeCeault.

"At some point, just about everyone hits a plateau," Ritter said. "This is not scientific or anything, but it's like now that I'm the best in the area, or the best in the region, or best in state -- what's the next plateau? I don't know if that's the case here."

DeCeault isn't sure what the root of the issue was, either, but she's determined to help others avoid the same pitfalls. DeCeault had already planned to make a career in the field of dietetics before her latest battle with anorexia. She said she wonders if speaking to a dietitian while still at Sherando might have helped her to avoid her eating disorder. DeCeault thinks it would, and she's focused on helping to spread the message through her work and through her own struggles with an eating disorder.

Ritter said he thinks awareness of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia have improved in recent years, but more can still be done to combat the problem.

"I don't think it's a huge problem in our area, but I think it's a significant problem everywhere," Ritter said. "The focus right now is much more on concussions and steroids, or the negative long-term effects of some of the high-energy drinks."

DeCeault said she hopes to shift some of that focus to eating disorders, and her mother said Krista is passionate wanting to help.

"She wants to make sure this does not happen to anyone else," Cheryl DeCeault said. "She's focused on what she can do in her career and through her own experience and her personal story to spread awareness."

•••

There's something Cheryl DeCeault wants you to know, and this is the most important part.

Her youngest daughter has struggled with anorexia, but Krista has never let the illness define her. The struggle has become part of her life, truly, and part of her experience. But Cheryl DeCeault is convinced that her vibrant daughter -- talented athlete, accomplished scholar, some-time musician, among other interests -- will continue to battle her own eating disorder and inspire others who might be struggling with their own courageous stories.

Knowing that strong will made it a bit easier for Cheryl and David DeCeault to send their 19-year-old daughter back to college, far from home. Having a strong network of support also helps ease their mind.

"She has a great support system there," Cheryl DeCeault said. "Her sister lives in Chicago, and I had attended Illinois State, so we have some very good friends who live near campus. It's hard to let her go, but she's not in the Midwest all by herself."

Krista DeCeault's love of running also never faltered, and that desire to get back into form helped her recovery. But it's hard to say a word like "cure" in describing an eating disorder.

Cheryl DeCeault said she thinks it probably is going to be a daily struggle, having to make a choice about what you're going to do.

"I don't know if you're ever going to be completely out of the woods," she said.

Bovee said he thinks DeCeault's best days as a runner are still ahead of her.

"I'm very proud of Krista," Bovee said. "She's just 19 years old and it's incredibly mature, the way she's handled all this."

•••

There's one more thing Krista DeCeault wants you to know, and this is important.

If you are struggling with your weight to the point of ill health, you are not alone.

"Eating disorders and anorexia are much more prevalent than people think," DeCeault said. "People just are not willing to talk about it. It's such a personal struggle."

DeCeault is talking about it, and plans to continue trying to help bring awareness to the issue.

Right now, though, she's focused on herself -- mind and body, spirit and health.

"I'm blessed to have the support everyone has given me," DeCeault said. "It's gotten me to this point so far.

"I'm happy with where I'm at right now. I'm just coming back and I know it's not an overnight thing, but I believe I can get back to where I was and even beyond."

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>


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