District III Cross Country (copy)

Carlisle's Meg Lebo missed nearly all of her 2018 cross country season due to injuries and illness.

CARLISLE — “I remember the exact words, ‘You have a home here in South Carolina next year.’”

Those 10 words were some of the most important Carlisle senior Meg Lebo has heard in the past 12 months. And she “bawled” as soon as she heard them.

It has been a challenging year for the talented distance runner. Diagnosed with an oxygenation issue weeks ago following months of speculation, she has missed nearly every track and field or cross country race in the past 12 months. She ran a few regular season races this fall and attempted the Mid-Penn Championships in October, but has been nowhere near the runner she was early in 2017 when she appeared to be on a path to a PIAA medal.

And her NCAA Division I chances evaporated in lockstep with every missed race. Originally looking closely at East Carolina and Penn State, Lebo watched helplessly as both schools turned away in the spring before she was able to find a diagnosis.

While searching for a solution to why her body was failing her, Lebo could do nothing but witness her collegiate career slip through her fingers. It was a sobering time as she battled breathing issues and migraines during the winter, and slept for more than 12 hours a day during the summer.

Lebo, who was named team captain in August to her surprise, tried to pick herself up and turn her attention to academics. Interested in exercise science, she looked into top programs around the country and stumbled upon South Carolina.

As a last-ditch effort, she submitted a recruiting form to the cross country team. And she was surprised to get a rather quick response saying the Gamecocks were interested in her.

Lebo told herself she didn’t want to cry at Carlisle’s signing day ceremony Wednesday in Gene Evans Gymnasium, but recounting her ordeal was too much. She shed a few tears as she talked about how important it was to her that head coach Curtis Frye (22 years on the job) and the Gamecocks coaching staff had faith she could return to form in the future.

The coaches have already helped her with finding the right iron supplements and will set her up with doctors near the school when she arrives to help her manage her condition, she said. It means the world to Lebo.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day since I started running, but especially in the past few months,” she said, crying some more. “Just having a place to go and having someone … a team, that thinks I will come back and believes I will do big things later on and to take a chance is a big deal.”

Beyond excited to announce my verbal commitment to further both my academic and athletic careers at the University of South Carolina next fall! #gococks pic.twitter.com/Ga235bqi6J

— Meg Lebo (@Lebo_xc) October 11, 2018

That she only has a walk-on spot entering her freshman year is of little consequence. Lebo is just relieved she has a career still.

Lebo said SC — which finished 13th in the SEC Championships in October and has familiar Mid-Penn Commonwealth face Cailin Saylor (2017 State College grad) — believes she can regain and eventually build on her junior year times before all of “this fun stuff,” as she called it, because her oxygenation problems are “fixable.”

“It means a lot,” she said.

Smiling through the tears, Lebo said doctors changed her medication a few weeks ago and she has felt better than any point in the past year. So much so she attempted to run Mid-Penn’s, and suffered an asthma attack the final two miles. It was far from the type of race she envisioned to end her senior cross country season, and it also meant she had to be talked down from running regionals while she builds her endurance back up.

She said she plans to use the indoor track season to regain her form and hopefully “be competitive by outdoor.”

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Email Jake Adams at jadams@cumberlink.com or follow him on Twitter @jakeadams520