By Tyler Aragao, Staff Writer
Photos courtesy Nicole Galewski
When it comes to injuries, athletes can often be stubborn in dealing with their diagnosis. For Nicole Galewski, it was no different. A graduate student and native of Whitman, Massachusetts, Galewski is one of the Franklin Pierce women's track & field team's most seasoned athletes. A record holder and multi-event competitor, Galewski has established herself as among the program's best despite dealing with subluxation degeneration, a condition which affects specific areas of the spine, causing nerve interference.
While most athletes have a timetable for their injuries, Galewski does not have that luxury, and sees various specialists and chiropractors once every two months. The grueling routine has been going on since 2015, when Galewski began feeling a tingling in her leg. "I just didn't feel right, and even after going home for blood tests they still couldn't find anything," said Galewski. It was eventually found there was inflammation in her upper spine area, but there was still no definite answer. Then began what she described as "draining" rehab sessions throughout the summer. Coming into her junior season, Galewski was physically drained, and as determined as she was to pick up where she left off, it would not have been possible without the help of her assistant coach, Chris DeLeon.
"I'm very lucky to have coach Dels," said Galewski. Better known as "Dels" among his athletes and the Athletic Department, coach DeLeon knew the moment he met Galewski she would give him a run for his money. "She did soccer and practiced with us as a freshman, and even though she felt run down, she powered through and was certainly stubborn," said DeLeon. Working with Galewski through a tough sophomore year, DeLeon noticed her conditions at various meets. "In December she ran the 300 and, after, she told me she couldn't feel her legs; the next week, [head] coach [Zach] Emerson is putting ice on her legs, and she has no reaction," said DeLeon.
As the weeks rolled on, so did her stubbornness. DeLeon recalled the story of how after Nicole had told him she woke up bleeding from the ears and nose, she immediately followed up by asking him "What's today's workouts?" Galewski's persistence is all natural. A multi-event athlete, Galewski competes in both the heptathlon and pentathlon, which are grueling days involving various events at meets lasting around six hours. "I attribute my success to going through rehab," said Galewski, the program's record holder in the indoor pentathlon and the outdoor heptathlon.
While a record holder in both events, Galewski's preparation and recovery were eye-opening and obscure compared to any of her competitors. For Galewski to participate in multiple events, she needed coach DeLeon, who would help re-teach Galewski how to walk, since she could not feel her legs after finishing an event. "She'd compete in one event, we retaught walking, then she'd compete in her next event," said DeLeon, who'd walk side-by-side with Galewski as she concentrated on his feet.
For Galewski, starting isn't the hardest part, it's finishing. "If I run 800 meters, I can't feel my legs 400 meters in." That right there is alarming enough, and while her competitors acknowledge her condition in the aftermath, she refuses to let her conditions act as an excuse or a means to draw attention. In fact, it's quite the opposite. "I had no other options," said Galewski, who admitted to going through a "woe is me" phase before coach DeLeon told her "You were given this hand because you're strong enough to handle it." At first, she did not believe him, but for DeLeon, the belief in Galewski was always there.
As close as the duo has been through the years, there have been moments of doubts. "Last indoor season, in 2017, I was not feeling well, the entire meet was a battle," said Galewski. While she did not know how she would do it, DeLeon told her, "Do it because you have the heart." That heart, determination, and true grit Galewski has displayed in her five years at Pierce have been infectious. "Our team gets a lot out of it," said DeLeon. With her no-excuses attitude and hardworking philosophy, Galewski has matured from a redshirted freshman who was academically ineligible into a national All-Academic graduate student with a 3.2 GPA and multiple school records.
There's a lot on her plate, but for Galewski, she would not want it any other way. "If I didn't have something to overcome, I'd be lost," she said. Her time at Pierce has had its doubts, but she seemingly always triumphs. In a meet she was not supposed to run in, she ended up anchoring the 4x200-meter relay and breaking a school record. The following year at the same meet, she took part in the pentathlon, competing in five events. Back in the place where she was doubted, she emerged with her greatest triumph.
While Galewski's success would be considered miraculous by some, DeLeon had always known she could handle it. "I don't know if I'd be here if coach Dels wasn't my coach. He's a great coach and human being," said Galewski. While there is no cure for her condition, Galewski doesn't think too far ahead of any future challenges, because while the road ahead may pose its adversities, Galewski and coach Dels both know she can, in fact, handle it.