Run, Write, Repeat: Strong Like Sawyer

Many runners face adversity at some point in their careers, however it usually comes in the form of challenging races, minor injury, or disappointments. Rarely does a high school athlete have to deal with something as serious as Maple Grove junior, Sawyer French. This past fall, in his first race of the season, Sawyer suffered a stroke that left him needing eight weeks of inpatient therapy in order to relearn how to walk. This past week, I had the opportunity to talk to Sawyer, and it is a pleasure to share his story of determination, emotional and physical endurance, and love for running with you all.

Sawyer joined cross country in seventh grade in order to help get him in shape for track. "I'd wanted to do track since I was a little kid," he remembers. The relationships with his teammates and the general culture of cross country made it Sawyer's favorite sport over track and nordic skiing.

Entering his junior season, Sawyer set his sights on running personal records and trying to qualify for State. In his first race of the year, Sawyer placed fifth in an impressive early season time of 17:50. After finishing, he collapsed, and many suspected that dehydration and fatigue were to blame. After he was not able to keep any fluids down, and it was noted that his left leg was dragging as he tried to walk, Sawyer's father, a physician, decided to take Sawyer to the Emergency Room where it was discovered that he had suffered an ischemic stroke.

Sawyer was immediately transferred to Abbott Northwestern Hospital where a procedure was done to remove the blood clot that had caused the stroke. Being only partially successful in removing the clot, the doctors decided that the right course of action was to perform a craniotomy, a surgical procedure where part of the skull is removed. This decision was reached because as Sawyer's brain began to heal it would likely swell. Adult brains do not take up the entire cranium, however in people as young as Sawyer, there is no room for the brain to expand so swelling can be deadly.

After four weeks, a cranioplasty was performed to replace the skull flap and Sawyer began the first stages of his long recovery. A stroke can have numerous complications. The stroke Sawyer suffered left him unable to move anything on the left side of his body. He spent weeks in physical and occupational therapy learning to walk again. Even today his left arm and hand are difficult to move, and not yet fully functional (Sawyer had to relearn to write with his right hand, as he was left handed). After eight weeks at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, Sawyer was able to walk normally. Now he is in outpatient therapy working on building his strength and endurance. "I got to run on a treadmill at therapy last week and I went on a short run with my teammate, Blake Iverson. It was great to be back out running with one of my friends."