The thought of former Triton track star Deanna Latham encountering a significant adjustment at the college level never really crossed the minds of those who followed her high school career.
During her four years at Triton, which ended when she graduated last spring, Latham never appeared to have a bad day. No injuries. No plateaus in her improvement. No bad seasons. Just a career filled with Cape Ann League, Division 3 and New England titles and a perfect ending — an All-America performance at her final meet, the 2010 New Balance Outdoor Nationals.
Latham is now learning to deal with adversity as she returns for her second semester at University of Wisconsin, a Big 10 Conference school that offered her a full athletic scholarship early in her senior year. Latham spent much of her first college semester dealing with injuries, which prevented her from training in her top events, the hurdles, high jump and long jump.
She will open her collegiate career this weekend at the Badger Track Classic, competing in an event she almost never practiced in high school — the shot put. The strange event choice is the result of an injury, a stress fracture in her foot, which plagued her for much of the first semester. She spent the last six weeks in a walking boot, which was removed yesterday.
Admittedly out of shape and cautiously approaching her training and competition schedule to avoid another injury, Latham will compete unattached from the Badger team this weekend.
"I'm going to compete to get a meet under my belt," Latham said. "I came here as a multi-event (pentathlon, heptathlon) athlete, but that doesn't really include the shot put for me."
Latham, who Triton track coach Joe Colbert once called "one of the greatest athletes — if not the greatest — in Triton history," believes the stress fracture in her foot occurred due to overuse. She first felt symptoms of the injury in mid-November but waited 10 days to have an MRI.
"This is all completely new," Latham said. "You can't imagine how hard college will be until you get here. It's 10 times more intense compared to high school. Basically, the way college track works is everything on your body hurts all the time. It's great, though, because I'm just another freshman who doesn't know what's going on."
It likely comes as no surprise that when Latham claims she's enjoying the struggles of being a freshman at a Division 1 college program, it sounds perfectly sincere. She spent the majority of her high school career smiling ear-to-ear when she wasn't dominating every level of competition on the track. Latham even laughed last night that she has been unable to determine her first-semester grades because she hadn't yet learned to navigate the appropriate section of the school's website.
"I feel like the second semester is going to go way better. I don't worry about the injury because I have plenty of other things to worry about. I'm clumsy; I can't walk through a doorway without stubbing my toes," Latham said while laughing. "I'm trying to balance practicing track for four hours a day with school, and I don't even know how to look up my grades from the first semester."
While Latham may downplay her athleticism, her talent does not appear to be lost on her new coaches. Although Latham will be working her way back into shape for much of the indoor season, and may not compete in a jumping event until late in the season, the Wisconsin coaching staff has decided not to redshirt the star recruit this season in hopes that she will help the Badgers win the Big 10 Championship Meet March 11 through 12.
Wisconsin's 2010 recruiting class was ranked No. 10 in the nation in the January issue of the national publication, Track and Field News.
Latham will have to work her way back into shape to help the class fulfill its potential.
"Getting back into shape is horrible because it makes your entire body hurt for the first few weeks," Latham said. "I'm so well rested, I feel really fast right now. But I need to get back into shape so I can get even faster."