BOULDER – After being sidelined for almost two years with injuries to both hips and a stress fracture in his femur, University of Colorado three-time track and field All-American Joe Bosshard is finally back in the race.
The road back has been steep, but it’s one that Bosshard has successfully maneuvered despite multiple set-backs. “The most challenging thing has been keeping a positive attitude; there have been lot of ups and downs. I’ve had to believe that if I just stay patient, it would all work out,” he said.
His senior outdoor season hasn’t been without injury-related challenges, but he still is qualified for this week’s NCAA West Preliminaries on Thursday-Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark. He can compete in two events (5k and 10k) and is one of 18 Buffs student-athletes (10 men, 8 women) scheduled to make the trip.
Between each injury, Bosshard built his confidence and reached a level close to where he was prior to the injury, only to have another ailment reoccur. He began to question if being a runner was really for him. “Just the constant thinking that you’re going to race, getting back in good shape, going through the rehab, going through all the cross training and then to have something else happen again is incredibly frustrating,” he said.
Although Bosshard was out for a while, he claims he has taken many positives from being hurt. In fact, he said being injured has offered the opportunity to help people who have experienced similar situations. Runners he didn’t know reached out to him on Facebook with questions about his injuries and coming back, which Bosshard answered.
Another positive that emerged from his injuries was the ability to focus more on school. Because of his academic achievements, Bosshard was accepted into graduate school and landed a couple internships that might not have happened if he hadn’t gotten hurt. He currently works for Eide Bailly, a Boulder accounting firm, but also spent time with City Brewery in La Crosse, Wis., and Coburn Development in Boulder.
But let’s step back quickly to 2011. Before Bosshard was injured he believed he could beat anyone in the NCAA – and for good reason. He was coming off two huge Big 12 Conference championships in the 5,000 (13:50.62) and the 10,000 (28:52.85) that included two meet records, and he had qualified for nationals in both events.
Bosshard saw a bright future in running, but a couple days after NCAA West Preliminary Championships just two weeks later, his hips began to hurt. According to him, that was the beginning of the end. Bosshard battled through nationals, recording All-American First Team honors in the 10k and was a member of the second team in the 5k. Shortly afterward, Bosshard was sidelined for the next two full track seasons.
The road back to racing wasn’t easy, but Bosshard didn’t have to do it on his own. Many people supported and encouraged him. Those who really pushed him to stick with it when times got tough were his dad (William), longtime girlfriend and former Buff runner Emma Coburn, and his coaches, head coach Mark Wetmore and assistant coaches Heather Burroughs and Billy Nelson.
Bosshard said Coburn and his dad sent the same message of remembering how well he ran before the injuries. Coburn said she tried to be the little positive voice in his head, reminding him of his abilities, the races he won and how hardworking he was before his injuries. “I think it’s easy when you’re in a hard time to think of all the obstacles you have ahead of you to get back, and I just knew he had been so good and he had run these fast times with his injuries bothering him. I knew that he obviously has been incredibly talented and he proved it,” she said.
AFTER EXPERIENCING HIS INJURIES, Bosshard was able return the favor for Coburn last summer through her first major injury near the end of her collegiate career. Bosshard reminded her of the reality of all of the positives in her life and brought that to her attention. He was very understanding because he understood all she was going through. “He wasn’t just saying great positive things to say them,” Coburn said. “When Joe says positive comments, you always can count on them to be true.”
Bosshard said his year of non-competition enabled him to “tell her what it was like just to hang out and not be a runner for a while.”
Wetmore wouldn’t take much credit for Bosshard’s perseverance over the last couple of years, saying, “His motivation is 99 percent intrinsic and one percent from Heather, Billy and me. Once in a while, we would have to pat him on the back and say there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Wetmore agreed that Coburn was a huge part in helping Bosshard recover: “No Emma, no Joe. No Joe, no Emma. Neither of them would be where they are right now if they didn’t have each other.” They are a good match, added Wetmore, because Coburn is very optimistic and Bosshard is business-like; when he needed her, she was naturally there and when she needed him, he knew it was a matter of business to be there.
Bosshard has always served as a huge support system for Coburn. When she competed at the 2012 Olympics in London, he was present to cheer her on in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. It was there that he laced up his running shoes as he ran for about two minutes in a grassy field while Coburn got ready to compete in the finals.
With Bosshard’s injuries the prior year, it had been a long time since the pair was both healthy enough to run together. Coburn said it was fun and nice to get back into the usual routine of running together again: “Running is such a lifestyle and you have to devote all your time to being an athlete. It was kind of nice to have an ally, to have someone know the struggle you’re going through and to encourage you. It was really nice to just have him around to build back my mileage and getting back into the schedule and program of running.”
Things fell into place for Bosshard. He received his sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and was already enrolled in graduate school. Wetmore said they were able to make his comeback a reality with things coming together perfectly. “He ran extremely fast as a sophomore, too fast to walk away from his collegiate career,” Wetmore said.
Slowly, Bosshard was able to ease back into training with the team, and on January 25, 2014, he finally ran in his first race at the Air Force Invitational, winning the 3k in 8:35.66. Bosshard’s time was 15 seconds faster than the rest of the field, but he wasn’t happy with his performance. “I was definitely nervous and excited going into that race, and I probably didn’t race as well as I should have because of that. I went out blazing,” he said.
Bosshard might have been disappointed with his first race back, but Wetmore didn’t think it was that disappointing. However he did see things that needed to be fixed after a long break from racing, “It was his first race after being out from injuries for almost two years, and while it looked pretty good, he was disappointed in it and we coaches weren’t really disappointed so much in the performance as we were that he raced like he hadn’t raced in two years. It wasn’t tactically an A-plus. So we had to talk about that and dialed him back a little bit,” Wetmore said.
During that race, Bosshard faced challenges he hadn’t in years, such as trying to push through the pain from being fatigued. “I’m relearning that whole side of it is that you have to continue to run hard even when you get tired and even when your legs start hurting. That’s something that felt like I was getting good at before I got hurt, and now I have to figure out again what it’s like to run tired,” he said.
Bosshard’s second race of the season occurred on February 14, a 5k at the Husky Classic in Seattle against a number of top collegiate racers. It was a performance he was proud of as he clocked a personal record of 13:43.21 to place sixth in the invitational section. The time was also the ninth-fastest in the NCAA during the season.
WETMORE WAS EXTREMELY PLEASED with the race, saying Bosshard did better than the coaching staff expected. Said Wetmore: “About two weeks ago, he was moping around and kicking his shoes around and was sure that he’d never be good again, but we knew it was a matter of getting him rested up and getting his fuel good, and so we proved that. We proved it to him because after Air Force, he wouldn’t have believed that he could run 13:43, but now he knows and he’s feeling good about it and ready to go back for another block of training.”
According to Coburn, the race at Air Force doesn’t count because Bosshard didn’t feel he did well, but he was excited about the Seattle race because it was against great competition. “It kind of makes you appreciate your health even more when you see someone go through so much,” she said, “and then get to the starting line being totally happy and excited to be out there because you realize it was taken away from him for so long and it’s really great to see him back out there and happy and excited. Just seeing him so happy was really fulfilling and rewarding.”
Bosshard ran one of the best races of his career, a 3k at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships in Seattle in late February. He clocked a time of 7:50.86 to become the third fastest Buff ever in the event. The time also placed him fifth on the NCAA descending order, ensuring Bosshard a spot at the NCAA Championships March 14-15. But injuries excluded him from the competition.
Nonetheless, now that he has recovered, Bosshard has the confidence he needs to reclaim his 2011 performance level. Wetmore is happy with what he has seen so far. “My aspirations are for him to continue to train healthfully and to be patient in his racing progression. If we do those two things, that process will lead to the kind of fast races that we want in late May and June,” Wetmore said.
Bosshard still has high expectations for himself and is disappointed when he doesn’t meet them. He said he wants to feel competitive and like his old self again and hopes to regain the confidence he once had before his injury: “To some point, that confidence really helps you perform at a higher level, and with running, that’s putting in good weeks of training.”
Today he is constantly comparing himself to the runner he was in 2011 and says he will until he reaches his pre-injury level. He is focusing on the small successes in practice and races to keep his confidence up. He believes he is moving closer and closer to his previous level: “While part of me feels like I’m just picking up where I left off, I know there’s another part that is still relearning this whole thing. I feel like the injuries are behind me at this point.
"I'm incredibly grateful for all that my coaches, CU athletic department, and my surgeon have done for me. Their unwavering support has been incredible. It was never a question that they would do everything possible to get me back on the track. Without their confidence in me and CU's resources, I am certain I wouldn't have competed again."