Katelyn Daniels had spent years working in the weight room, but this time something didn't feel right.

The 2013 Olentangy Orange High School graduate was doing routine workouts in April with the Michigan State women's track and field team when she felt a twinge in her back.

The standout performer in the discus and shot put was preparing for the Big Ten Conference outdoor championships slated for May 12-14 at Penn State, but her training was put on hold because of a herniated disc. It was the first time in her career with the Pioneers and Spartans that she was set back by injury.

At Orange, Daniels qualified for the Division I state meet in both the discus and shot put in her final three seasons. She won both events as a junior and senior, and placed seventh in both as a sophomore.

"It was bound to happen because it was a stress injury from the work I had been doing over time," said Daniels, who recently completed her redshirt junior year. "I just dropped the weights on a clean and I knew something was wrong.

"It happened about three weeks before the Big Ten (meet). I had to take two or three weeks off in the middle of the season, which wasn't easy. When I got back, I wasn't quite where I wanted to be, but our trainers and coaches did a great job and my teammates were really supportive."

Daniels ended up finishing second in the discus with a throw of 53.73 meters (176 feet, 3 inches) and was fifth in the shot put with a 15.92 (52-2 3/4).

She was second-team all-conference for the second consecutive season. She was a first-team performer in 2015 when she won the discus with a 59.06 (193-9 1/2) and was Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

"Our athletics training staff just was amazing," Daniels said. "Everyone jumped on board and worked to strengthen my core, which isn't easy with an injured back. Our head athletic trainer for track, Renee (Kleszczynski), just did a great job. They were working to get the same results without stressing my back."

Daniels holds the program records for the Spartans in the discus and shot put. She has thrown 60.54 (198-7) in the discus and 16.06 (52-6 3/4) in the shot put.

Assistant coach Lonnie Pugh understands Daniels' plight, having suffered back problems in the past.

"We found out Katelyn had a herniated disc and it set back her plans," said Pugh, who works with the Michigan State throwers. "We had to shut down her lifting for pretty much the entire (outdoor) season. We had to find creative ways for her to throw without all of the lift that she's used to having.

"I know what it's like to have a herniated disc and it's not easy. I think in the long run this will help her get to the next level."

The performance in the Big Ten meet helped Daniels reach one of her goals. She was able to qualify in the discus for the NCAA Division I Championships on June 7-10 in Eugene, Oregon, and finished sixth with a 56.12 (184-1) to earn her third consecutive All-America honor.

Another goal was to reach the USA Track & Field outdoor championships June 22-25 in Sacramento, California. She made it by finishing second in the discus with a 56.22 (184-5) in a qualifier held June 17 and 18 at Ashland University.

Her throw of 54.83 (179-10) was good for eighth in the outdoor championships.

"I wasn't thrilled with the distance, but I was thrilled to get back there," said Daniels, who made her third trip to the Sacramento meet.

"I wasn't as concerned with the outcome of the performance as much as just being able to compete there. That was an accomplishment with the injury problems I had this season."

She takes the injury in stride and has learned from the experience.

"Honestly, it was a pain when it happened, but it's also been a huge blessing," said Daniels, a biology major with a 3.78 GPA who has been academic all-Big Ten each year at Michigan State. "It has made me appreciate my experiences as an athlete and the opportunity that I have had.

"In the past, I could focus on the power of the sport and not as much on the technique. It allowed me to go back to the drawing board and it taught me the appreciation of hard work. I'll go into my senior year with a different outlook. I think it strengthened me the most mentally."

shennen@thisweeknews.com

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