By: Valerie Halim

My first few encounters with Kinnon

There was nothing particularly striking when I first saw Kinnon Rockness. To me, Kinnon was just an average-height girl with long, straight hair and a meek demeanor. The track jacket she occasionally wears was probably the only pointer to her interests outside of the classroom. With the assumption that she was a track runner for the college, I was intrigued by the fact that she seldom hung out with fellow athletes despite the unspoken norm, “athletes stick with athletes”. 

After going three months into the semester, it suddenly occurred to me that she was the girl with crutches under her arms in the beginning of the semester. Putting two and two together, I began making assumptions. Fortunately, I did not have to assume much longer as on a busy Monday afternoon, I was able to have a conversation with Kinnon over tacos and tea. 

In the midst of the bustling Anderson Commons, Kinnon Rockness started her story—a story about her aspirations, grief and growth. 

Kinnon Fell in love with track

Although Kinnon already enjoyed running at a very early age, it was her sisters who first sparked her interest in competitive running. Growing up, she witnessed her two older sisters run cross-country in school and decided that she wanted to do the same once she is in middle school—and so she did.

But cross-country was not what she expected at all. Even though she was able to do a lot of running in cross-country, Kinnon felt that she could not enjoy the sport. But this did not stop Kinnon from running competitively. Determined to find another sport that involves running, she started looking into Track and immediately fell in love with it.

Her newfound passion for the sport and her aspiration to become a better athlete was then immediately sensed by her coach who happens to be a close family friend.

“With track, I just realized that I had a more natural talent in sprinting,” Kinnon recalled.

“My coach spent a lot of time to focus and helping me build and become a better athlete,” Kinnon said. “and that was when I started to view track as something I would want to carry on through my life.”

Track in Kinnon’s developing years

Photo courtesy of Kinnon Rockness

Due to her father’s job as a pastor, Kinnon had to move to North Carolina in the summer before eighth grade. During this difficult transitional period, track was what helped her find a sense of belonging. Her love and involvement for the sport made it very easy for Kinnon to find friends in the team. In high school, she admitted that most of her close friends were also people on the track team. The track community, she said, was what gave her confidence in who she was and a sense of belonging.

When it came to making college decisions, track—again—played a decisive role. Although NC State was her first choice, Kinnon ultimately chose Wheaton College (IL) because she knew that she had a higher chance of running track competitively in a D-III college.

The labrum tear

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. In August 2019, just before the start of her freshman year, her doctor told her that she had a labrum tear on her hips. “‘You need to get a surgery or you’ll never be able to run again,’” Kinnon recited her doctor’s words.

Horrified by the thought of not being able to run for the rest of her life, Kinnon immediately agreed to do the hip surgery. To Kinnon, hearing the news about the labrum tear was devastating, but the recovery process post-surgery was what really tormented her.

“I would be lying very still in bed for weeks and would be imagining scenarios where I would not be able to run anymore,” Kinnon describes.

In the four-walled recovery room, she saw her life that she built around track crumble before her: the slow recovery process would not allow her to run track her entire freshman year. Impatience and frustration were her loyal companions during this period, but so was her family.

“The injury definitely brought my family closer,” Kinnon said.

Spiritual Struggle

Even though she has been able to start seeing the good in this tragic event, frustration and impatience still haunted her. A few weeks later, Kinnon was back in college with crutches. As someone who has always been active, seeing her friends in the track team run and not being able to run herself was probably her biggest agony. She also recalled the times when she had to get food at the cafeteria.

“I would have to ask random people to help me hold my plate because I cannot use my two hands and hold both of my crutches at the same time,” she said.

Her dorm room was a silent witness to her frustrations and expressions of grief. Her alone time in the room was when she would wrestle with God about her situation and slow recovery.

“Patience is definitely the biggest part. Because some days I would feel great and I would feel like running but I know if I do that I would end up hurting myself.”

In the end of her prayer, Kinnon would always mention one request: for God to give her patience.

Entering new doors of opportunities

Photo courtesy of Kinnon Rockness

Having track suddenly torn away from her life, she was forced to direct her attention somewhere else. Kinnon admitted that through this incident, God opened doors to various new opportunities. With not being able to track with her fellow track athletes, Kinnon made friends with a lot of people with various interests and backgrounds. She is also currently involved in two small bible study groups—track team discipleship small groups (DSG) and cross-country team (DSG)—and is working for the basketball team.

Her sister Courtney Rockness, who is a co-leader in the cross-country bible study Kinnon is currently in, expressed her admiration towards Kinnon’s resilience. She recalled how Kinnon often shared her injury story as a testament to her faith and spiritual growth.

“As a sister who have seen her go through surgery and the recovery process, it was wonderful to hear what she actually thought about it and have her share it in our small group,” Courtney explained.

Kinnon found encouragement in Christ

Although she is still unable to run and train with her fellow track athletes, the seniors in the team have been a huge source of encouragement. She shared how they would tell her that her injury is not the end of the world as they have experienced what Kinnon is experiencing right now. Her coach at Wheaton College also played a significant role in her healing process.

“‘Your purpose here is not to be a better athlete but to further God’s Kingdom’,” Kinnon said as she recited his words to her.

Kinnon thinks that it is very easy for athletes to forget their original purpose and her injury has helped her focus on becoming a better Christian and spreading God’s Word.

By the end of the interview, Kinnon said that she might need to get another surgery on her other hip. However, unlike her response before the first surgery, Kinnon was calm.

“I am prepared to not be able to run for even longer,” she said. “I don’t know what will happen in the future, but my goal right now is to heal, deepen my relationship with God and others.”