Crapisi battles disease to get back to form

Mark Pawlak

Editor’s note: This is the final part in a five-part series highlighting female athletes at Iowa State.

Andrea Crapisi is once again able to do what she loves – run.

Crapisi is taking part in her senior season as a member of the women’s cross country team after being forced out of action last season because of a severe blood disorder.

For Crapisi, her career has seen her move from the team’s top newcomer, to top runner, to fighting to get back to the level she was once competing at.

Last fall, Crapisi was wondering if she would ever have the opportunity to hit the course again.

In what was marked to be a promising senior season, she took a medical redshirt because of a bout with anemia.

Anemia is the medical term given to not having enough red blood cells, according to the Anemia Institute for Research & Education.

“It killed me. I just love running. To watch everyone else compete is really hard,” Crapisi said. “I always had doubts as to if I were able to come back and be able to compete again.”

The Chippewa Falls, Wis. native came and made an immediate impact as a freshman, earning Iowa State’s Outstanding Newcomer-of-the-Year honors in 1997.

She followed that by showing improvement in her sophomore season. Crapisi was the top finisher for the Cyclones at the Big 12 Championship with a 17th-place showing. At the NCAA Midwest Regional meet, she finished 26th.

Her junior season brought expectations for a great final year.

As a junior, Crapisi started by placing third at the ISU Open as the first Cyclone runner to finish, in addition to taking a 23rd-place at each of the conference and regional meets.

Head coach Dick Lee said that going into the fall of her senior season, Crapisi was Iowa State’s top returning runner. Anemia made her watch from the sidelines the entire season.

“I had had it before, but never had it really bad,” Crapisi said.

That summer she spent in Boulder, Colo. and increased her workout routine, but something wasn’t right.

“I increased mileage a little bit, but I thought it was the altitude. I should have known I’d be fairly used to it by being out there for the summer. I thought it was a combination of that and increasing my mileage.”

When she returned to Ames, things deteriorated.

“I came back here. I would go on a run, and my legs would go numb. I couldn’t feel my legs,” Crapisi said. “Then, I went to the doctor, and they did a lot of different tests. They figured out it was pretty severe anemia.”

Anemia is a shortage of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells carry hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from your lungs to your organs and cells. That oxygen allows the body to function and gives you energy.

But Crapisi is back in action this year and said part of the credit for being able to comeback goes to her teammates.

“Honestly, I don’t think I would be competing if I didn’t have my teammates,” she said. “I can’t even express how much they helped me to comeback, because there were times I didn’t believe in myself, and they would be there.”

She remembers one moment in particular that her teammates helped her get through the tough times.

“I had finished a workout and just wasn’t [doing well] . it’s frustrating coming back and not being where you want to be,” Crapisi said. “I think the girls sensed I was frustrated. One of them sent me an e-mail on how much I meant to the team and a couple gave me a card. By doing that, they showed how much they cared. It just makes me want to do that much better. It makes me realize how important it is to me, too.”

Crapisi has been eager to get back out there and get to work.

“I’m really excited to have a chance to compete,” she said. “It’s hitting me that this is the only time in my life that I’ll ever get to compete at this level.”

The season will be a gradual recovery process for Crapisi to regain her old form.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to be at the exact same level that I was at. Right now, I’m still working my way up,” she said. “Each workout feels a little bit better. It’s just a different level to get back in with them.”

Her coach also believes it will take time to get back into that same shape.

“She’s one that it’s going to take the course of the season to get back to that point of being one of our top kids. It’s something you can’t rush. It just takes time,” Lee said.