By the numbers: Kate Van Buskirk’s resilient comeback

Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Kate Van Buskirk is back after a turbulent three years during which she battled numerous injuries.

Photo: Justin Gaymon
Photo: Justin Gaymon

Kate Van Buskirk’s name has been a notable absence, at least consistently, from race results for the better part of the past three years. In that time, she has battled injury, exhaustion, questions of whether or not she wanted to continue in the sport and Olympic heartbreak. Now, she’s back. 

“I’m healthier than I have been at any point in the last two-and-a-half years,” she says. “I feel like my old self again.”

The 29-year-old product of Duke University is one of Canada’s top middle-distance runners having won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games and narrowly missed out on making the finals at the 2013 IAAF World Championships. Since 2014, the Toronto resident has battled through numerous injuries. She returned to the track for the first time in 2017 10 days ago in New York City. Here’s what you need to know about her comeback… put into numbers. 

Van Buskirk’s comeback, by the numbers:

17

The number of medals won by Canada’s track and field athletes at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Van Buskirk, who competed in the women’s 1,500m, won a bronze medal at the global event against some of the best distance runners in the world, including those from Kenya, arguably the deepest running nation.

Following Van Buskirk’s success at the Commonwealth Games, she suffered a torn hamstring while training in Toronto for late-summer races in Europe. “I was almost too sharp at the time,” she says. “We were doing some fast speed work that day and I had an ongoing hamstring niggle. I remember feeling a tear. That set me out for the fall.”

Rehab at the Runner’s Academy in Toronto meant Van Buskirk’s return to training in the early months of 2015 but “deep pain” in the SI joint meant dealing with constant management until late 2015. She qualified for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto but didn’t race due to injury. Van Buskirk was then diagnosed with spondyloarthropathy, a group of inflammatory diseases that causes discomfort in hips, pelvis and lower back. “At one point during October 2015, I couldn’t get out of bed,” she says. “It was one devastating issue after another.”

As of last month, Van Buskirk no longer feels any hip pain and is taking proper measures to prevent a flare up of inflammation associated with the fall 2015 diagnosis.

6

Van Buskirk took six weeks off training this past summer to let her body decompress. “I needed to figure out whether I wanted to be an elite athlete,” she says. “I questioned that. For the last two years, I’ve alternated between physical pain and mental exhaustion.”

In the spring of 2016, Van Buskirk was training out of Flagstaff, Ariz., and racing, in hopes of keeping the Olympic dream alive. But adrenal fatigue set in which led her to skipping out on the 2016 Olympic Trials in Edmonton. She did, however, watch the Olympics. “I knew every member of Canada’s track team and could connect with them on an emotional level,” she says. “The excitement surrounding the event reaffirmed that running is all about enjoying the journey.”

5

The number of years that Van Buskirk ran for Brooks. She is no longer sponsored by the sportswear brand and has been working several side gigs to continue to fund her running. Those side projects include coaching with a number of local Toronto groups including Pace & Mind and doing freelance work. “Sad that the partnership ended,” she says. “But these are lean times in a post-Olympic year. I’m grateful for their support.”

Van Buskirk was not selected for carding, a term used for government financial assistance, by Athletics Canada.

2:20/2:10

The approximate splits of Van Buskirk’s New Balance Games mile, broken down in half, which marked her first indoor races in three years on Jan. 21. “The plan was to go out on the slower side, stay patient and make a decisive move.” The 4:30.14 time was a then-world-leading mark in the women’s mile. In the lead-up to the New Balance Games, Van Buskirk raced the Boxing Day 10-Miler in Hamilton where she posted a 56:25. “I enjoy racing over/under distance,” she adds referring to racing distances beyond her marquee 1,500m event.

4:05.38

This is Van Buskirk’s personal best in the 1,500m, which dates back to the July 19, 2014. Her 2017-opening race in New York City at the Armory (4:30.14) is also a personal best. The Toronto resident will have a chance to improve her indoor mile time again at the Armory Invitational, the same venue she raced at for the New Balance Games.

She’s also slated to run the 3,000m at the Millrose Games, the world’s longest-running indoor track competition. A traditional run in Central Park will serve as a pre-competition shakeout. “Short-term, I want to get in some good race experiences,” she adds. “More long-term I want to make worlds, and make the finals.”