NAUGATUCK — Often in athletic competition an opponent is the least of the obstacles standing in the way of success. Overcoming adversity is one of the most challenging roadblocks, especially when that obstacle shows up in the form of an injury.
Naugatuck native and 2015 Nonnewaug High School graduate Michaela Pernell’s run to glory has been a difficult one filled with blood, sweat and tears.
Pernell broke onto the scene as an untested freshman new to the sport of track and field in an environment that immediately put her in the spotlight. Nonnewaug is a program built on near perfection led by head coach Arleigh Duff, who has a 212-2 record in dual meets and has won 20 consecutive Berkshire League championships.
Pernell hit the ground running. She was a three-time league champion in her freshman season and was part of the 4×100 relay team that won the Class M state title.
After qualifying for the New England Open finals as a freshman, Pernell was ready to take it up a notch her sophomore year. She won three more Berkshire gold medals in the outdoor season and broke the state record as the Class MM state champion in the 100 meters.
Pernell earned All-New England honors for the second season in a row and was off to complete at the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, N.C.
Some of the major track collegiate programs in the Northeast and Midwest began to take notice. Then adversity struck, and the long hard road back to prominence tested the heart of this talented athlete.
While preparing for the indoor state open in her junior year, the Nonnewaug speedster crumpled to the track in agony. The diagnosis was earth-shattering. Pernell had torn the hamstring muscle partially off the bone.
Determined to not let the injury slow her down, Pernell tried valiantly to stage a comeback by the end of the junior outdoor season. She suffered a setback trying to come back too soon.
“The injury was very tough to overcome,” Pernell said. “It took a lot of hard work but it was worth it in the long run. I really think it challenged me and made me more mentally strong.
“The thing about something like this is it does you no good to look back on what might have been. A lot of schools stopped with the e-mails and contacts, but I can’t look back. All I can do is look forward and keep heading in that direction.”
Heading into her senior year, Pernell was just happy to be healthy again and running good times. But the time off the track took its toll. In early December, she suffered an injury to her other hamstring. Although not as serious as the first injury, Pernell was still shaken and for the first time in her life began to question herself as an athlete.
“Every time you’re on the track in practice or competition it crosses your mind,” said Pernell about the prospect of another injury. “It’s hard not to think about it, but you can’t let that hold you back. Like I said, ‘You can’t look back. You always need to look forward.’”
Then came the time for Pernell to prove her mettle at the Berkshire League outdoor championship this spring. The sprinter, who was already a three-time league champion in her freshman and sophomore seasons, went out as one of the all time greats winning gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400 along with a 4×100 relay title.
“I will admit that I had my sights set of going out with four Berkshire League championships in the sprinting events as a senior,” Pernell said.
The three-time All-State sprinter went on to earn her second All New England honors and qualified for Nationals. Pernell is now keeping her sights set on moving forward towards a collegiate track career this fall at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.
“I was relieved to get the college recruitment out of the way,” Pernell said. “I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but after staying overnight at Merrimack I knew that is where I belonged.”
For Pernell, it’s full speed ahead.
“I would like to put up some personal best times in college and be part of a team competing for a National Championship,” she said. “But my biggest goal is to prove to the school and my coaches that they made the right decision in selecting me.”