BIRMINGHAM, Mich. – When Audrey DaDamio crossed the finish line last fall at the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championship race, she had difficulty containing her emotions.
As one of the top girls cross country runners in Michigan, DaDamio capped her junior season that day in San Diego as a top 20 runner in the nation. Crossing the line in 18th place with a time of 17 minutes and 59.0 seconds, DaDamio proved she could compete with the nation’s best in a 5-kilometer race.
“I was kind of crying a little bit when I crossed the line,” DaDamio said. “It was just such a dream of mine.”
It was a major accomplishment that only few high school runners ever get to experience. However, DaDamio’s journey to that point was more extraordinary that most.
When DaDamio was in seventh grade and just beginning to tap into her talent, she suffered a knee injury that nearly ended her running career just as it was starting to take off. Instead of giving up, however, DaDamio spent over a year and a half in slow rehab and conditioning, allowing her to return in time to burst onto the scene as a freshman at Birmingham Seaholm.
Now a senior, DaDamio remains one of the nation’s best runners as her season-best 5k time of 17:16.4 ranks No. 3 in Michigan and top 40 in the United States, according to Athletic.net. So far this fall, she has six first-place finishes and just one runner-up finish.
“She’s super talented, but she has a really strong sense of resolve,” Seaholm coach Craig McCardell said. “When she sets her mind to something, she’s pretty bound and determined to try and make that happen.”
DaDamio began running competitively in fifth grade at St. Regis during the Catholic Youth Organization track season. The youngest of three children in a family of collegiate runners that spanned three generation, DaDamio’s older sister, Rachel DaDamio, was the 2014 Division 1 runner-up runner up at Seaholm.
“It was always the joke that Audrey would come and break everyone’s records,” Rachel said. “But that wasn’t really something that we were even thinking about. It was just kind of a joke.”
Not afraid to go for three or four-mile runs in fifth grade, running was no joke for little Audrey. Her talent did not take long to reveal itself as she became a dominant runner among her peers through the first year and a half of middle school. By the time she was in seventh grade, she claimed the CYO cross country individual title.
Then, everything changed for the worse a few months later while Audrey was out enjoying a day of sledding in February.
“It still baffles me that it happened,” Audrey said, recalling the day her running career ended.
After getting tossed from her sled, Audrey felt immediate pain in her knee. As bad as it hurt, however, she did not realize how serious the injury was.
“I ended up tearing my meniscus off