Concussions ended Rachel Butler’s football career, now she’s a top runner

“That can’t happen … I’ve never seen that before.”

Rachel Butler was crying.

The Xavier University soccer player was sitting in her coach’s office. Her tears were the result of a decision that would drastically change her life.

“I think in the first three years (with Xavier) I had three concussions,” said Butler. “I had one last (season) and just the lingering effects … I didn’t pass my tests as quickly as I should. I had side effects that just weren’t worth it.”

Her trainer knew that too. In April, three weeks after Butler’s concussion, she had her year-end meeting with Nate Lie.

“That’s when I started talking to her about the big picture,” said Lie, Xavier’s head coach in football since 2017. “Is it the right thing to get back on the field? She’s very intelligent. She’s a great student. She has plans “for the future. I didn’t feel too comfortable putting her back on the field. We’re talking about their brains, something that cannot be undone later on the street. “

Butler stuck with the idea for a couple of weeks. She was talking to her mother, and the decision she knew she had to make weighed heavily on her.

“Coming back from that concussion was pretty bad and I know mental health is 100% more important in the long run … and I knew my decision would be to stop playing,” said Butler. “But it’s really hard to distance yourself from something you’ve played all your life. It was horrible.”

Butler still wanted to be part of the team and she is. She’s still on the list and still attends games and training when she can.

But even though she chose to walk away from soccer, Butler wasn’t ready to throw water into her match fire.

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“(Lie) was like, ‘Why don’t you look at something you’re pretty good at?” said butler. “I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he says, ‘You’re a really good runner.’ “

Lie said to her, “I think cross country is realistic for you.”

Not far from Lie’s office is Sam Burroughs, Xavier’s cross-country and track and field trainer.

Lie had already alerted Burroughs to Butler’s situation and told him that he might have a new runner for him.

“I was like, ‘Sam’s office is right over there … I told him that, if you want to see this, I don’t care. It’s your choice,'” Lie said to Butler. “We marched to coach Burroughs’ office and introduced ourselves.”

Butler said: “It was a life changing decision at that moment and coach Burroughs walked in and I sit there in tears like, ‘I’m really sorry. I’m usually not like that.’

“(Burroughs) said, ‘We have a few extra seats, why don’t you try it?’ I had no idea what to expect. “

Soon they were talking about running.

“How much do you run? She was jogging a bit. I wanted to find out how many kilometers she covers per week? Burroughs said. “… She didn’t really know how many miles a week and she had no real idea how fast she was. She was referring to the half marathon she ran and she told me how fast she ran and I.” I like, OK, that’s kind of interesting. The fact that she ran 13 miles, a half marathon, in a training run at seven minutes (minutes) per mile would fit nicely. “

And so began Butler’s running career. Over the summer, she kept in touch with Burroughs regarding training. Butler is studying movement science and doing an internship at the Form + Function Movement Lab, where she helped develop a training routine tailored for distance running.

When summer ended and Butler’s senior year began, she officially joined the cross-country team.

When the team started training in the second week of August, Burroughs said he paired Butler with the second and third sets of runners to see what they would look like in the pack.

“Again, she had no idea what she was doing, she was just tracking the group and holding out pretty well,” said Burroughs.

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Butler was nervous. She didn’t know what to expect from herself, but she decided to give it a try.

“It’s my last year, there’s not much at stake – if I’m not great, it’s fine; if I’m great, that’s great, ”she said.

Burroughs was careful with her, collecting data points after each run.

“Every week that went by, we made them do a little more,” said Burroughs. “But as the weeks went by, that’s only two or three weeks, she looks good. She did a little more and she looked good, and a little more to the point where it’s like she’s out there rolling with our top girl. “

Last Friday, September 3rd, less than a month after the start of the season, the Musketeers drove their first race.

Xavier University cross-country runner Rachel Butler won the Butler Twilight race on September 3, 2021.  It was the first race of her career.  Butler only recently joined the Musketeers cross-country team after her soccer career with Xavier was ended by concussions.

Maybe it was a premonition or just a touch of luck, but the name of the race was Butler Twilight on the Northview Church in Carmel, Indiana course, the same course that will host the Big East Conference championship later this season.

“When we got to the competition last Friday, she’s never been in a race. Never,” said Burroughs. “She has never driven a high school track or high school cross country. She has never driven a road race in her life.”

Butler had put it differently: terrible.

“I was stressed because we got stuck in traffic on the way there,” she said. “So let’s get there, we had to start the warm-up right away. Oh my god, I have to prepare myself mentally.

“We’re at stake… we’re kind of next to all of our competitors – that’s terrifying. I have to start in this pack of all these people. I’m being trampled. “

Burroughs and his coaching staff gave Butler the simplest advice they could. They told Butler she could hang out in the pack with her teammates and see how she felt, or she could run with the leaders.

“I spoke to one of our assistant coaches, Abbie (Hetherington), at the start and thought, ‘I don’t know what to do,'” said Butler. “She said, ‘Just go. Just go.’

“Well, I shot out.”

On the first mile or so, Butler ran with another girl in the lead.

“I’m in the top group so I freaked out a bit during the run,” laughed Butler. “But after about a mile or so it started to die off and I was still feeling pretty good and thinking, ‘This is kind of exciting.’ It motivated me a bit. So I just kept digging. “

Butler’s teammates and coaches were scattered across the track, running to various points to cheer them on.

“I needed that,” she said. “Especially when I got two miles back I thought I didn’t think I could do it. But they were there for me. It was great to see how they supported me.”

Before the race, Butler expected her to have a decent kick at the end of the race.

“I have pretty good stamina. I come from football. I’ll just be able to kick in the end,” said Butler. “And one of my team-mates said, ‘If you don’t kick, you won’t win.’ And I looked at him and almost started to cry, I thought, ‘I haven’t got a kick.’ I have nothing in me. “

Butler gave everything she had and she crossed the finish line first, winning the first ever running race of her career with the second-fastest 3-mile time in school history (17: 19.8).

“A lot of things just happened and everything was worth it,” she said. “I had a pretty tough time getting used to not being on the (soccer) field. And it was really cool to see all my hard work paying off.”

Burroughs said it was a breathtaking moment.

“I’ve been training in this sport for 21 years. I’ve never seen the first competition and the transition to such a high level before. That should not happen. It doesn’t happen, “said Burroughs.” Cincinnati coaches came up to me, the butler coaches came up to me and said, ‘Who is this girl? I’ve never heard of her before. ‘

“I say, ‘Exactly. Because she has never competed in a race.'”

Butler’s group text thread with the soccer team was immediately flooded with messages of support and congratulations.

“I spoke to her right after that,” Lie said, “and I was just so happy for her. I’m not an emotional person and I got emotional because I know what she went through. I know how hard it was . ” that her football career essentially ends that way. My wife and I had tears in our eyes and we both just laughed at how ridiculous that is. Then we went out and looked at other college times just to get some context of what she just accomplished. I couldn’t be happier for her, she is such a good person. “

Right after the race, Butler found Xavier weight trainer Matt Jennings and she burst into tears. Jennings asked Butler how she was feeling.

“I said I am proud. I just endured the adversity and was able to capitalize on it … it was one of the most rewarding experiences ever, seeing that whatever you get involved in has the potential to be successful there, “said Butler.

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