POLLY PLUMER : If it's not one thing it's another as UCLA runner tries to overcome aches, pains and illnesses

Times Staff Writer

Polly Plumer looks good and sounds great.

After missing most of the recent track season at UCLA, she's back doing light workouts at school, running about four miles a day, lifting weights, feeling fine.

But next week, she may feel lousy again.

The former star at University High in Irvine--she set a national prep record of 4 minutes 35.24 seconds in the mile during her senior season in 1982--may be gasping for breath after 50 yards. She may feel light-headed, dizzy, lethargic. She may suffer painful headaches.

That's how her sophomore year went for Plumer. One week she was feeling fine; the next week she was in the hospital.

Injuries have thwarted what was once a promising running career--Plumer has not been able to improve on her best high school times in the mile or 1,500 meters at UCLA--but her recent problems have been the most frustrating and puzzling of her setbacks.

Plumer wasn't feeling well in May of 1984. A blood test then revealed that she was anemic. She took some time off, increased her iron intake to get her blood count up, then resumed training during the summer until she broke her left leg.

That injury forced her to miss the cross-country season last fall, but she was back in training by November. Around Thanksgiving, she was feeling listless again.

A week later, doctors discovered that Plumer's red blood-cell count had dropped alarmingly.

She had three blood transfusions in one weekend. Doctors were amazed that Plumer had even been walking, let alone running.

The next week, doctors found several lesions on Plumer's colon that were bleeding, but after two months' rest, they healed. Doctors told Plumer that they could have been caused by poor diet but there was no definitive explanation.

Plumer returned to her training regimen in preparation for the spring track season and ran a 4:38 mile in March to qualify for the NCAA meet at Austin, Tex. But in late April, just before the Mt. San Antonio College meet, Plumer was sick again.

Her blood count was down again and this time doctors found three tumors consisting of dilated or newly formed blood vessels or lymph vessels in her stomach. They treated two of the angiomas but the third, which was bleeding, was too close to the pancreas.

Plumer may need surgery to remove the third tumor, but nothing is definite. It isn't bleeding currently, so surgery may not be necessary.

Furthermore, doctors aren't even sure if the bleeding in the stomach was caused by the tumors, or if it was related to Plumer's anemia.

No one knows exactly what's wrong with Polly Plumer.

"That's the most frustrating thing," Plumer, 20, said. "You know, if you have shin splints, you ice them. If you've got a sore Achilles, you rest until it gets better and then you come back. Me? It doesn't matter what I do.

"I don't know if this is going to happen again. My condition could be caused by dieting, it could be from this, it could be from that. I could do this to try to prevent it, but I don't know if it will work."

Through it all, Plumer remains optimistic. She may be hurting inside, but she puts on a happy face. She's also determined to compete again.

"I won't give up. I'm too stubborn," Plumer said. "People tell me I'm crazy. They ask me why I keep doing this to myself. Either I come home in tears because my foot hurts, or I'm in a hospital bed.

"But that feeling of being out there when you're on--that makes all the work worth it. I don't want to step off the track until I'm totally defeated, or they lock me up forever."

Plumer had her share of injuries in high school, but none prevented her from winning three consecutive state championships in the 1,600 meters.

A heel injury caused her to miss 90% of her junior track season, but she came back that spring to win the Southern Section 3-A title, the CIF Masters Meet and her second state title at 1,600 meters.

She pulled a thigh muscle during her senior year but was still healthy enough to win her third state title.

Her problems, though, continued at UCLA, where a bad arch hampered her progress as a freshman in 1982-83 and a bad back slowed her during her second cross-country season in the fall of 1983.

After her first quarter in 1983, Plumer, who wasn't happy with her coaching at UCLA, left school to train with her former high school coach, Bob Messina, who had moved to Cal State Fullerton. She took some classes at Saddleback College but returned to UCLA after Messina was hired as the women's cross-country coach and a track assistant last fall.

A familiar coach couldn't change her fortunes, though.

Plumer could not recover from the broken leg in time for the cross-country season, and then her stomach problems worsened, forcing her to miss more than half the Bruins' meets this spring.

"A lot of people would have quit a long time ago," Messina said. "I'd get more depressed about it than she did. She would have to cheer me up. She doesn't show the hurt very much, and as long as she doesn't lose her desire to do well, some day her body will cooperate with her. There are few people better than Polly when she's healthy."

Messina said that a healthy Plumer would have made a difference in the NCAA meet, where UCLA finished fourth, seven points shy of champion Oregon. Instead of running for the Bruins, Plumer spent the week socializing and concentrating on her schoolwork.

"I tried to block running out of my mind for a while," she said. "But it was tough. It might have been easier to accept if I didn't qualify for nationals or run a 4:38 mile. It would have been a lot easier if I wasn't running well. But I was."

Even so, Plumer, whose sister, PattiSue, ran at Stanford and once held the NCAA 5,000-meter record, figures she was lucky to win three state championships in high school and that this recent ordeal is a natural flip side to her success.

But she's stronger because of it.

"I've gone through so much this year," she said. "If I could just tell you some of the (medical) tests I've had this year--I'd rather not tell you. If I can go through that, I can certainly run four times around the track."

Still, there are those who are wondering what the heck is wrong with Plumer. What ever happened to Polly Plumer?

"Every time I'm at a meet and not running, people come up to me and say, 'What's wrong with you this time? I heard you're anemic. Are you taking iron? Have they done this test?' " Plumer said. "They don't understand. I can't tell every person my life story. I just smile, nod my head and go on.

"But they won't forget me for long. I'll be back."

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