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Photo taken by Henry Jessen

FOREVER ON FIRE

Professional runner overcomes unprecedented challenges.

A tattoo and personal mantra is embedded on Emi Trost’s ankle reading: Forever on Fire. “Running is my first love, and I’m not done on the track yet,” Trost said. “But whatever happens, if I were paralyzed from the waist down I’d still be active. It’s who I am.”

Trost is currently a professional runner for Minnesota Distance Elite (formerly known as Team USA). But the road has not been easy. A runner’s worst nightmare has not only become a reality for Trost but a continual battle of the same struggle on repeat.

Trost’s story began as a young girl. She was home educated from 2nd grade through high school. For physical education, her parents signed her up for her first 5k when she was 10 years old. After experiencing success, she joined the cross country and track team for Cannon Falls High School. After setting school records, she went to run for the University of Duluth. Injury after injury has taken Trost out of her sport, but persistence pushes her to become an even stronger runner and athlete.

This athlete’s first running related injury was damaging her hip flexer during her senior year of high school. Heading into her freshman year of college, Trost felt tired and sick but pushed through, continuing to run. She thought this was how college students must feel, tired all the time. After going home for Christmas break, she learned she had been ignoring and running with Infectious Mononucleosis. Trost was not eating regularly and felt fatigued. Despite the illness, she helped her team at nationals.

“I’m definitely the type of runner where I’ll push through just about anything and that’s a good thing and a bad thing I’ve learned,” Trost said. “I’ve had to reign it in sometimes when you’re not supposed to push.”

Trost continued running and made it to nationals almost every season, whether cross country, indoor track, or outdoor track. During the winter of her sophomore year, she developed tendinitis on the outside of her shin and peroneal. The pain came suddenly, right at the start of the season, and lingered throughout the entire outdoor season.

The following fall season was successful, Trost received 4th place at nationals. Using that momentum, she and her team ran strong for the remainder of the year. That indoor season, she participated in the distance medley relay. Trost ran the last leg of the race, the 1600m. She was given the baton from her teammate in 9th place. She knew the top 8 teams would receive All-American. She had to be All-American. Trost ran hard and ended up taking 2nd place for her team. Outdoor season came around and she earned the title of NCAA Division II Outdoor National Champion in the 1500m run.

“Coming off that high,” Trost said. “I trained all summer and was injured the week before training camp for cross country.” She suffered from tendinitis in her posterior tibial tendon the week before senior cross country season. The injury was a setback, forcing her to take the entire indoor season off and only exercising by cross-training. Trost raced strong during her final outdoor season.

After graduating from the University of Duluth, she allowed herself a break from running before joining Minnesota Distance Elite. Though, she still experienced pain on the inside of her shin, driving her to a vascular doctor where she was diagnosed with popliteal artery entrapment syndrome. This diagnostic explained the calf pain and foot cramping throughout her entire college career.

“I would race, especially in spikes, and I could barely walk the next day,” Trost said. “My calves hurt so bad and I didn’t realize that maybe wasn’t normal.”

The following February of 2019, Trost had surgery on both calves. The procedure removed her plantaris muscle. Heading into the fall, she experienced a stress injury on her shin, followed by an IT band syndrome in January. Trost visited a doctor at Twin Cities Orthopedics to examine her knee, and was reminded that she was born with a condition called hemangioma tumor in her knee. She was aware of this growing up, but was unaware that anything could be done to help it.

“Throughout high school and college I would manage symptoms. If it got really swollen, I would just ice it or use a brace or take Ibuprofen,” Trost said. “But it was getting to the point where it was waking me up at night for hours because of the pain. Sometimes I would call my mom in tears.” Her doctor recommended seeing a tumor doctor.

Her lower half was examined through an MRI, displaying the tumor clearly. “It was the size of a peach.” Trost said. Most people get this removed because it is a vascular formation tumor and worsens with exercise. Trost had surgery in July of 2020.

“It’s crazy to think about the journey because I know I’ve gotten so much stronger over the past three years,” Trost said. “I didn’t ask for this vascular condition, I didn’t ask for a tumor in my knee, I was given it.” Trost views the pain and her injury-driven journey as an experience to become stronger than she was before.

“It’s easy for my to ask, why? I’ve always believed that God has a plan for my life, but it was still hard for me to grasp why he would give me such a passion for something but also take it away with these types of conditions and injuries.” Trost said. If someone were to ask her a year ago if she would be okay never running again, she would not have been. But up to this point, she can confidently say she would be okay. She’s accepted that there are more things in life than running, though she’s not done running yet.

Trost continues walking through a season of healing and recovering from her surgeries, though she’s still training and staying in shape. She wants to be ready to race as soon as she can. “Even if it takes me all next year to get healthy and I don’t race,” Trost said. "I love racing and I train for racing.”

“Humanly speaking and selfishly speaking, I wish I didn’t have to go through any of this,” Trost said, reflecting on her running career. “But then I think if I hadn’t gone through any of it, I don’t really think I would like myself now.”

“My personal mantra is forever on fire and I feel it’s a representation of my story,” Trost said. “Fire is also refining, when you put silver in the fire, all the impurities come off.” Being refined is a process in which unwanted elements are being removed. Trost correlates being refined through her injuries. “It’s like hardship, you come out reflecting the Creator’s face.”

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