Like a marathon or cross country race, life is often about making adjustments. It’s all about crossing the finish line and Pioneer’s Owen Rennich isn’t going to let a few obstacles, challenges and unforeseen turns get in the way of his winning time – even if time has kind of been put on hold at the moment.
“I’m doing well, given the circumstances,” says the senior track and cross country runner. “I miss seeing my friends and teachers every day, but I miss physically being in class and with my peers the most. It’s been very strange to have to adjust to learning online, but my teachers have all been great about it.”
Let’s rewind the clock a little bit before the world was turned upside down. Rennich had a few major dates penciled in on his already busy calendar for the spring of 2020. This young man wasn’t on cruise control heading down the home stretch of his high school career – he had both feet on the pedal.
One of his scheduled stops was New York City to run the 4x800m relay at the New Balance Indoor National Meet. “All of the guys on the relay have worked incredibly hard in order for us to qualify, so it really hurt when it was cancelled the day before we were supposed to leave,” Rennich said.
Another stop was North Carolina where his Pioneer Science Olympiad team would have likely been competing at Nationals (this past weekend). Rennich spent countless hours preparing all year, wanting to again medal at Nationals in the Wright Stuff and Circuit Lab events.
Another unfortunate cancellation due to COVID-19 was the Pioneer Symphony Band’s tour to Germany scheduled during spring break, which they have been preparing for since last summer. Rennich plays the trumpet.
Despite the frustration and disappointment of not being able to compete or perform, Rennich has been carrying on and trying to make the best of a rough situation. In other words, he’s been adjusting to one of life’s big curveballs.
“I have been spending time studying for my AP tests, and I am also developing a mobile phone application as a final project for my Swift coding class,” he says. “I’m also cleaning up my home workshop that has accumulated many models over several years of Science Olympiad projects.
“In addition, I love cooking and have been baking a lot of bread, running out of yeast! The most exciting part of my day is continuing to train on my own. My teammates and I are lucky to be in a sport where we can still practice, even if we are not able to compete at this time. Having endured so many injuries, I am so happy just to be able to run.”
And it’s those injuries which may help explain how and why this 17-year-old can deal with what’s happening in the world right now by just taking it in stride and controlling what he can control. It’s easy to let what is happening get you down and the best way to deal with it is to focus on what you can control.
Facing obstacles such as injuries has helped Rennich understand this.
“I’ve learned to focus on what I can do, instead of what I cannot, and I have kept myself busy with other interests, mainly my trumpet and Science Olympiad,” says Rennich, explaining how he has dealt with injuries and setbacks. “When my femoral fracture sidelined me last year, I was able to spend more hours than ever before on my Science Olympiad projects, which paid off with personal best results at states, impacting Pioneer making it to nationals. The same day my track teammates were running at the 2019 MHSAA Outdoor State Track Meet, I was able to medal in two events at the 2019 National Science Olympiad Tournament at Cornell University, and Pioneer Science Olympiad finished fifth place overall.”
Rennich’s running injuries started in middle school. After finishing second at the Michigan AAU State Cross Country Meet in fifth grade and then his Ann Arbor Track Club team winning AAU Nationals, he was excited to start sixth grade because Slauson Middle School had a cross country team.
“I struggled with knee pain throughout the season and ended up being diagnosed with a condition called osteochondral defect, which left me out of sports completely for two years so my bones could re-ossify,” he said. “I was able to run eighth grade cross country and finish second place at all of the city meets but never was able to run track due to a hip injury I suffered from swimming that winter. I remember the coach actually let me run the mile in the final city meet even though I was still in PT. Those four laps were grueling but I was so incredibly happy to experience running on the track in an actual meet.”
Rennich also experienced several injuries during his high school career at Pioneer.
“Dealing with the injuries has been hard, but I’ve gotten through them with a lot of physical therapy and support from my family,” he says. “I have accumulated a rainbow of therabands, and have added more strength training, stretching, icing, and rolling to my daily training to help prevent future injuries. I am careful to ramp up training gradually and diversify my workouts, paying attention to my mechanics.”
After a difficult freshman year dealing with several injuries, Rennich was healthy enough to run every cross country race during his sophomore season.
“Being able to run with the eventual state championship team was inspiring,” he said. “Every day, everyone gave their best effort. I finished that year improving my best time by about 2 minutes, running 16:36. I was able to run track that spring, improving my speed, and qualifying for regionals in the 1600m and 3200m.”
Shin splints slowed down the start of his junior year.
“After returning to run several meets with some pain, I finally had a race where my shins felt good and ran a PR 16:01 for third place in the Varsity SEC League Meet race finishing just behind my two teammates Nick Foster and John Florence,” he said.
This was an incredible improvement compared to the previous year when Rennich placed third in the JV race.
“I was super excited for regionals and states and primed to break 16:00, but a couple days later I suffered intense quad pain, which led to me not being able to run in either race,” he said. Tests later revealed a rare femoral stress fracture.
“This was particularly hard on me, knowing I was in the best shape of my life,” he said. “I had to miss indoor and outdoor track seasons waiting for it to heal. I spent my winter and spring doing physical therapy and biking on my own.”
This past year, Rennich was a captain and spent each summer morning leading the cross country team practices as he progressed through his own personal return-to-run program.
“I was able to run the first two meets before experiencing acute shin pain that I quickly realized was not just shin splints but a tibial stress fracture,” he said. “Although I was not able to run much of the season, it was still fun to be back on the team after not running track the past year.”
Rennich’s perseverance and determination paid off. He returned for the final two meets to help his team, running at regionals and in his first MHSAA State Meet where he ran a season-best time of 16:35.
More determined than ever, Rennich continued to train and heal in the following months. He set PRs in nearly every race he ran during this past winter’s indoor season. The highlight of that season was qualifying for states in six events (800m, 1600m, 3200m, 4x400m, 4x800m, DMR) and leading off the state champion 4x800m relay, which ran a national qualifying time of 7:59.27.
He hopes to continue on the comeback trail at the next level.
“Now that I am stronger and my times are faster, it is a current goal of mine to run on the team at the University of Michigan, where I plan to attend this fall,” he said. “I have been able to be competitive with a few already-committed runners in races this winter, and seeing former teammates Nick Foster and John Florence running for U-M along with Pioneer commit Leo Gabaron has me dreaming of joining them on the team.
“I know that the U-M roster is already full and spring outdoor track was my chance to continue to bring my times down to prove myself to the coaches and the team. I have lost that chance due to COVID-19 and am hoping that with continued hard work and training, I can stay healthy and somehow still get a chance to try out for a walk-on spot.”
Owen, the son of Patrick and Jean Rennich, also excels in the classroom (3.99 GPA) and also was a member of Coding Club (captain), Student Council (vice president) and National Honor Society.