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Crash Slows, Fails to Stop 2 Saugus High Track Stars

Times Staff Writer

Heather Scobie and Shauna Bird used to run to win. Now they run for something more important.

When the two Saugus High School seniors compete in cross-country races, they say, they are running for their lives.

Both girls were critically injured in a car accident on Halloween last year just as a crucial cross-country event was approaching the following week. Both suffered internal injuries and broken backs that left them bedridden, facing months of rehabilitation.

“One of my doctors told me I probably wouldn’t be able to run again,” Scobie said. “I told him, ‘Hey, this is my life. I have to.’ ”

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The accident cut short promising cross-country and track seasons, particularly for Scobie, a 5-minute miler who twice had placed second in the Southern Section 3-A cross-country championships and had been looking forward to challenging for first place.

Competing Again

But nearly a year later, the best friends mostly challenge themselves. They are back on the cross-country team--something their doctors were pessimistic about--and competing again. But they are behind the pace they once set on the running trail as well as in their lives.

“I think we run just to prove we can do it,” said Scobie, 17. “For me, I’m just trying to get back to where I once was. But I really don’t expect anything. It’s one step at a time.”

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“It’s depressing sometimes,” added Bird, also 17, “to know what you were able to do and then not be able to do it. But we are overcoming that.”

Because it accents the physical limitations the accident left them with, their slower running pace may be the most obvious result of the wreck that nearly killed them and did kill a passenger in another car.

But recovery for Bird and Scobie has been a healing of minds as well as of bodies. Though quick to giggle about boys and as boisterous as any high school girl could be expected to be, they are still overcoming psychic wounds. They mark Oct. 31, 1987, as the date that all things changed. Still, they have pushed uncertainties aside with youthful optimism.

“I think it is 90% mental,” Scobie said of the recovery. “I am trying to think and work hard toward getting back. . . .”

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Sense of Mortality

Life is more meaningful to them now, they said. And though outwardly they show no scars, their words sometimes betray a sense of mortality that usually doesn’t affect people so young.

“When you come so close to almost getting killed, you look at a lot of things and say, ‘Why should I? What’s the use?’ ” Bird said. “It can be hard to overcome. We worked so hard to get to where we were and then, suddenly, it is all gone. It makes you ask, ‘Why did we do all of this?’ ”

The two girls were passengers in a car driven by Melissa Zidle, 17, of Valencia, about 1 p.m. that day nearly a year ago. They were heading south on the Sierra Highway in Newhall when a car coming in the opposite direction began to hydroplane on the rain-slick road.

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The California Highway Patrol said the other car crossed the center line and collided with Zidle’s car. The other car was driven by Kevin Cooper, 23, of Newhall, the CHP said. He and his brother Kyle, 15, suffered minor injuries but another brother, Keith, also 15, was killed.

Zidle suffered a concussion and other injuries. Scobie and Bird had serious internal injuries and broken vertebrae. Bird’s collarbone and left arm were broken.

3 Months in Bed

The accident occurred two days after Scobie had won the Golden League cross-country title. It was her third consecutive title and her win in the 3-mile race had led Saugus High to a second-place team finish, and a berth in the Southern Section preliminaries to be held a week later.

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Each girl underwent surgery to repair the internal injuries. A fractured piece of Scobie’s spine was fused with undamaged vertebrae. Saddled with back braces and casts, they recovered in bed for more than three months.

Best friends before the accident, they said, they became closer while bedridden. The bond was reinforced through hours-long telephone conversations. Later, their parents would take one to visit the other.

“We had five-hour phone calls,” Scobie said. “Watch MTV and talk on the telephone was all we did. Our friends and family were very supportive. Our friends took turns visiting us every day. It really showed how much people care for us, even people we didn’t know.”

They still share that bond in running and recovery. They will good-naturedly bicker over who first started walking or running again, but each said only the other shares a true understanding of the accident.

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“She is the only one I can talk to sometimes,” Bird said of Scobie. “She knows what I am going through.”

‘Story of Personal Triumph’

During their rehabilitation, Saugus High School tutors visited the girls’ homes so their schoolwork would not suffer. Scobie spent hours working on practice equipment for cross-country skiing. For both, the most tedious task was turning fragile steps into running form.

By April they were taking 50-yard jogs on the school track. They trained with former coach Steve Spraker during the summer and this season, they entered competitions for the first time since the accident.

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Though neither performed at their previous levels, their return to the track has been an inspiration to themselves and others. Spraker, who has moved to another school as dean, thinks they can regain their peak form.

“Those two are unbelievable,” Spraker said. “I saw them in the emergency room on the day of the accident and just the fact that they came back from that and even returned to school is amazing. They just never gave up. They accepted nothing less than to run competitively again and to return to their standing with the senior class.”

Teri Lord, girls’ athletic director at Saugus, said the comeback has been an inspiration to others.

“The accident hit the community very hard,” Lord said. “To see these girls return is a story of personal triumph. Whether they are able to peak at their previous levels or not, they have shown something to this community.”

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Such support keeps the two runners going. And though they try not to dwell on it, each thinks about whether they will return to form.

“I think about what has happened all the time,” Scobie said. “Watching the Olympics or in running or racing. You think about when you could push yourself and wonder if you ever will be able to do that again. I hope that I will.”


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