“Dream on, Dream on. Dream until your dream comes true.”
– Aerosmith, “Dream On”
Steven Tyler’s piercing vocals echo through the annals of rock
‘n’ roll history and into the hearts of many. For junior Sarah
MacKay, the words provided an inspiring anthem during her injury
plagued freshman year.
MacKay did dream, when she was 12 she purchased a Colorado State
track and field T-shirt and dreamt big – that one day she would run
A jog through puberty and a move to Massachusetts later, MacKay
returned to Fort Collins and the CSU track team. She battled four
knee injuries throughout high school and entered her freshmen year
still hampered by a bogus knee.
In February 2001, midway through her freshmen year, cross
country coach Del Hessel summoned MacKay into his office and
announced that she was cleared to run. Unable to contain her joy,
she sprinted to her room in exuberant celebration and announced the
news to friends and family.
The following day her dreams took a giant blow.
Traveling on I-70 with some friends, to watch a cardboard box
derby, MacKay and her friends met with a semi-truck. As the beast
crunched their merging car, the trunk crumpled and the windows blew
The car skidded uncontrollably, and stopped abruptly as it
collided with a tree.
All three passengers survived, but MacKay, sitting in the
passenger seat, received three broken vertebrae and one huge
obstacle to overcome.
“It was ironic because he (coach Hessel) asked if I wanted to be
a Ram and I said ‘yes’,” MacKay said. “It was the very next day
that I got in my car accident. It was a short-lived ‘Rammage’.”
She spent the night at St. Anthony’s hospital and the next six
weeks in a back brace, unable to run.
Enter Aerosmith and “Dream On”. The song served as voiced
encouragement throughout the excruciating weeks that followed.
While she wasn’t running she was missing it and her desire to
compete as a Ram spurred her on.
“I get this focus and I don’t quit,” she said.
While incapable of training, she looked for different ways to
define herself, other ways to dream.
“I felt like I was a one talent person,” MacKay said. “But when
that talent was gone, I was forced to focus on other things.”
Among many revelations, she embraced her enjoyment of reading
and writing, leading to her decision to become an English
This fall, MacKay has returned to the Rams’ cross country team
in dominating fashion. She placed third overall in the season
opening Wyoming Invitational and finished 18th at the Lobo
Invitational a week later.
“Sarah is very inspiring,” said head coach Del Hessel. “To all
Teammate Colleen Blair is one of the many inspired by
“The first word that comes to mind, when I think of Sarah, is
determination,” Blair said. “It’s pretty neat that she stuck with
Her back still hurts, but her dreams live on. She continues to
love running, but now she can see herself as more than an athlete.
She can see the Sarah MacKay that others see. The Sarah MacKay who
likes to read and write, whose cheeks glow when she gets flustered
and who periodically tucks strands of blonde hair behind her ears,
a girl who is not only a runner, but an individual.
Though she continues to stun the cross country world, and others
continue to stand in awe of her determination, she remains as
humble and as driven as the 12-year-old clutching a T-shirt and a
“My roommates are really supportive and the whole team is so
great,” she said. “I’m just so excited when I put on my uniform and
run with them.”
Thankful for her friends and honored to be a Ram, MacKay refuses
to forget those who aided her recovery.
“My parents put a lot of energy into helping me get better,” she
said. “I couldn’t do it by myself; I had to rely on them and God to
help me through it.”
The past couple years of Sarah MacKay’s life have not been easy.
However, with the purpose-driven lifestyle she has developed, the
network of support surrounding her and the ease with which she
bounds over impeding obstacles, the future is hers for the making;
if she continues to dream on, dream on.