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Facing 'growing pains' and overcoming them.

As long as I can remember, I had always been able to outrun my classmates and teammates. But starting when I was in the eighth grade, suddenly I had to outrun knee pain.

After scoring great soccer goals, strange and excruciating knee pains began to follow me home. Each time I won my school's Mile Run, new areas of pain and stiffness appeared in my feet and ankles. My knees seemed oddly lumpy. It turned out that at age i3, I was experiencing-literally--what some people call "growing pains."

Teens who grow particularly quickly experience this type of pain when their leg bones lengthen faster than their ligaments. While it's not an illness, sports-medicine doctors refer to it as Osgood-Schlatters syndrome. There is no cure except waiting to outgrow it. Many teen athletes like me just limp out of action during the typical growth-spurt years from age 12 to 17 or 18.

Before I was diagnosed with Osgood Schlatters, I had played soccer since I was 3, but suddenly the sport became deadly for me. One afternoon of racing toward the goal in flat-soled soccer shoes--which put added pressure on your ligaments because of the way the shoes flex your feet--can cause severe injury to a taut Achilles tendon. For me, even a vacation at the beach became a danger zone: Walking barefoot in the soft sand was so painful that I returned to Baltimore with torn ligaments.

I had to give up soccer, which was devastating for me in the beginning. Soccer is such an engaging sport, all my friends played it, and it had been so much a part of my life. I didn't think I'd be able to find anything to take its place.

Still, I was determined to find a sport in which I could participate. One of my sports heroes is cyclist Lance Armstrong, who overcame cancer to defend his title in the Tour de France. I wanted to follow his example and prevail, despite my Osgood-Schlatters.

By the winter of ninth grade, I had discovered several exciting sports that do not exacerbate knee pain: cycling, speed skating, table tennis, discus, and--best of all--crew.

Now, after almost four years of playing these new sports, I feel really challenged by them, especially throwing a discus, which involves balance, focus, strength, and an understanding of the physics of spin.

I'm now 17 and 6'2". Will I have another painful growth spurt before college? Maybe, but it is rewarding to know that I've already been able to overcome those growing pains and find success in new arenas.

Henry Magram is a senior at Pikesville High School in Baltimore. He plans to attend SL John's College in Annapolis, Md., in the fall.
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Title Annotation:Voices
Author:Magram, Henry
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Date:Apr 5, 2004
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