Frances Koons has just one or two more races left as a Villanova runner so she is savoring every last moment being around her teammates and appreciating every day since a bout with kidney cancer threatened her career, and her life.
"I feel I've been blessed," the 23-year-old runner from Allentown said yesterday. "I had a speedy recovery and I didn't have to go through the types of things most cancer patients have to go through.
"I've heard stories from other patients and they've been inspirational to me. I hope I can provide some sort of inspiration to them, that they can go on and achieve things better than they could before. It's neat to be a part of that."
Koons, one of 22 women and men representing the Wildcats today and tomorrow in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field East Regional in Greensboro, N.C., will compete tonight in the 5,000 meters. She has the fifth-fastest qualifying time, 16 minutes, 12.26 seconds.
Koons can advance to the NCAA outdoor championship meet beginning June 10 in Fayetteville, Ark., with a top-five finish, or as an at-large selection from a pool of athletes who place sixth through 12th in the four regionals.
She is happy that two teammates, Amanda Marino and Kaitlyn Tallman, will be running with her in the crowded 44-woman field.
"It doesn't get any better than that," she said. "The thing I'll miss the most is the camaraderie. It's been so nice to have the support of my teammates. I try to motivate them to do well but they motivate me more."
Koons isn't leaving the program entirely. A graduate student with senior eligibility, she will return next year to finish her master's degree in applied statistics while serving as a graduate assistant coach.
She will continue to compete with an eye to racing for the United States in international competitions, and the ultimate goal of the 2012 London Olympics. She advanced through one round of the 1,500 at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials before being eliminated.
"I feel like I have a lot left, a lot of development ahead of me," she said. "I just want to keep getting better, keep doing what I've been doing and be patient and the time will come. I definitely have my sights on the Olympics. That would be a fun ride."
It was at last year's Olympic trials where Koons heard from her doctor, who told her that her CAT scan came up cancer-free, ending a year-long battle against the disease. During that time, she did not have to go through radiation or chemotherapy but doubt still remained.
She returned to racing at the 2008 Penn Relays, moved up in distance to the 3,000 and 5,000 and steadily improved, encouraging both cancer patients and cancer survivors.
"I'm flattered by the fact that people follow me," she said. "My aunt and uncle told me recently that someone stopped them in church and said they had read an article about me and wished me luck. It's nice to know people out there root for me with so many thoughts and prayers. I cherish it. I don't take it for granted."
Other Local Competitors
Here is a list of competitors from local schools competing in the NCAA East Regional Track and Field Championships today and tomorrow at Greensboro, N.C.
100 – Bobby Staten, St. Joseph's; Bruce Owens, Rutgers (Deptford High)
200 – Staten and Owens.
400 – Elvis Lewis, Villanova
800 – Jason Apwah, Cody Harper, Daniel Tully and Sean Tully, Villanova; Brian Fulton and Darryll Oliver, Penn; Owen Dawson, Penn State (Coatesville).
1,500 – Matthew Gibney, Carl McKenzie and Patrick Mellea, Villanova; Korey Edwards and Trevon Rainford, La Salle; Brian Gutrel, St. Joseph's.
3,000-meter steeplechase – Daniel Lewis, Villanova; Kyle Murray, St. Joseph's; John Mahoney (Council Rock North) and Michael Syrnick (Central), Penn State.
5,000 – Will Rowland, St. Joseph's; Ben Guest, Villanova; Kyle Dawson, Penn State (Coatesville).
400 hurdles – Bradley McFadden, Temple.
4x100 relay – Penn.
Pole vault – Anthony Abitante, Penn; Brad Lawrence, Penn State (Voorhees).
Long jump – Tim Boeni, Temple.
Triple jump – John Carelli, Penn; Clarence Smith, Penn State (Coatesville).
Hammer – Grant West, Temple.
400 – Paris Williams, Temple.
800 – Anna Aagenes, Penn.
1,500 – Ellen Dougherty, Sheila Reid and Nicole Schappert, Villanova.
3,000-meter steeplechase – Sarah Morrison, Villanova.
5,000 – Frances Koons, Amanda Marino and Kaitlyn Tallman, Villanova; Christa Plummer, La Salle; Leah Brogan, Penn.
100 hurdles – Shericka Ward, Villanova.
400 hurdles – Kristen Mahon, Villanova; Assata Cowart, Temple.
4x400 – Villanova, Temple.
Pole vault – Caitlin Fairbairn, Penn State (Bishop Shanahan).
Hammer – Amanda Cole, Temple.