It was the spring of 2018. As Rayannah “Ray” Torrence tore up the track for the Buchtel High School 400-meter relay team, she collapsed just steps away from the finish line.
Ray’s mom and biggest fan, Carmon Lee, stood in shock in the bleachers. “I wanted to jump over the fence and run to her,” Carmon recalled. “I opted for the stairs instead, got to Ray and asked her to get up. She said, ‘I can’t.’”
Ray felt like something hit her, but no other runner was around. “My Achilles had been bothering me for a few weeks, perhaps because I was trying to do the long jump and wasn’t landing correctly, so I tried some extra stretching,” she said. “To have my tendon tear during a race was something I didn’t expect. But when I went down, it was a cute fall – very graceful.”
Dr. Joseph Congeni, director of the Akron Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine program, examined Ray. “I could walk because my Achilles tendon was hanging on by a thread,” she said. “But I couldn’t stand on my tippy toes or move my calf muscle.”
An MRI confirmed Ray’s torn tendon and the need for surgery. “We were shattered by the news. We cried and thought Ray’s dream of earning a college track scholarship was over,” Carmon said. “Dr. Congeni empathized with us, but he also put the situation into perspective by saying there are kids in Akron Children’s Hospital who are fighting for their lives. When we took a moment to think about that, we knew Ray would be OK no matter what.”
Dr. Patrick Riley Jr., pediatric orthopedic surgeon, repaired Ray’s tendon. “I’m glad I got to meet him before surgery. He made me feel comfortable, explained what would be happening and reduced my anxiety,” Ray shared. “Everyone was great on the day of surgery, from the anesthesiologist to the nurses.”
Ray spent two weeks on crutches in a soft cast and then transitioned to a walking boot. A month after surgery, she started physical therapy in the Akron Children’s Sports Rehabilitation department.
“An Achilles tear is a really strange injury for someone Ray’s age,” said Mindy Bragg-Coldsnow, physical therapist with Akron Children’s Sports Rehab. “It usually happens to middle-aged men whose tendons are dehydrated. Ray takes good care of her body and drinks a lot of water, so dehydration wasn’t the issue.”
Ray recently transitioned from two therapy sessions a week to one. She starts by warming up on a stationary bike and then completes exercises such as hamstring stretches, squats with a resistance band around her knees, lunges and calf raises. “Mindy was a runner, so we had an instant bond,” Ray said. “I love coming to Akron Children’s because they treat you like family.”
Ray’s rehab is progressing ahead of schedule. “She is a good patient who is very personable. She’s eager and tries hard,” Mindy said. “The prognosis is good: she should be able to return to a high level of athletic participation.”
Although Ray missed her senior season on the volleyball team and as a marching band drum major, she looks forward to running track in the spring. “When she’s back on the track for the first time, I’m going to need someone to catch me because I’m going to pass out,” Carmon quipped. “When Ray first started therapy, she couldn’t walk without a limp. To think of her being back on the track and running again, what a comeback! She is a gem, and I am so proud of her.”