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Determination, Persistence, and Some Record Breaking

Dallastown grad, Natalie Cottrell, shares the story of how her love for track helped her sprint into the spotlight while battling her health concerns.

One might fear the fire that is life’s challenges, and some modestly prevail to bring out their inner fire. For Dallastown graduate Natalie Cottrell, her inner fire forced her to prove herself right and accomplish plenty.

Cottrell, now a freshman at York College of Pennsylvania, participated on the track team at Dallastown and is now running for her track team in college. She made quite an entrance into college athletics by setting a new school record!

But greatness isn’t made overnight, and Cottrell had to overcome many obstacles in her path to success.

During her time at Dallastown, Cottrell ran track during her sophomore, junior, and senior years. She ran in the 100 and 200 meter dash, 4x100m relay, and 4x400m relay.

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While all her years were filled with hard work and dedication, her senior year was notably filled with achievements. She earned the following-

  • YAIAA Athlete of the Week honors
  • 2nd in the county for the 200m
  • 4th in the county for the 100m
  • 7th in the district for the 200m
  • 9th in the district for the 4x100m (teammates were Aubreigh Rogers, Olivia Cleaver, and Kassie Bealer)
  • YAIAA Track and Field All-Star team Honorable Mention

With many achievements comes numerous memories. “My favorite memory was watching the screen at Shippensburg with my teammates as it showed the qualifiers for district finals, and I had just made the cutoff as the last qualifier by .01 seconds,” Cottrell states.

She made the most out of her senior year breaking personal records and pushing through her physical boundaries. Her unique health concern plays an instrumental part in her athletic career.

Cottrell was born with the rare genetic disorder Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) which is a connective tissue disorder that causes the collagen and tissues in the body to be made incorrectly, therefore weaker.

“I would say that my only big obstacle was my health issues,” Cottrell says. “I would try to ignore it as much as I could, but there would be moments where I would need to take a break at practice or I would have passed out.”

EDS has impacted her life in a major way for it causes severe breathing issues, weak and painful joints, GI issues, kidney issues, and iron depletion.

With the iron deficiency Cottrell needs biannual IV iron. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if she wasn’t allergic to iron.

“We managed how much Natalie would run at a time focusing on her building speed and strength while giving her the recovery that she needed,” one of Cottrell’s Dallastown track coaches, Coach Barshinger states.

Those who are afflicted by EDS do not participate in any contact sports because of all the symptoms and risks.

“I won’t let my disorder keep me from doing the things I love,” Cottrell states.

The college freshman indeed did not let her disorder affect her love and passion for the sport of track and field.

She runs both indoor and outdoor in the events of 60m, 200m, 4x200m, 100m, 200m, 4x100m, and the 4x400m relay. During the indoor season while running the 4×200 relay with three other teammates, she made school history.

Cottrell and her teammates broke the record, which was originally 1:52.61. They ran a 1:50.15 relay.

“It was definitely an exciting accomplishment, especially because we broke it at our conference championship,” Cottrell says. “I had always hoped to have broken one, but I thought it would have taken a couple years on the team to have grown as an athlete before I was able to do so.”

While she surprised herself of her abilities, those at Dallastown did not doubt her at all. Especially one of her former coaches.

“It made me proud for her. She deserves it. She works so hard on improving. It was certainly nice to see alumni making strides at the collegiate level. Out of all my years of coaching she may have been the one I’ve seen the most improvement out of in a single season from beginning to the end. I think she shocked herself and it made for a very enjoyable senior season for her so yeah I am super proud to see her improve and really gain a lot of confidence in herself that she extended into college. I’m excited to continue to see what she will continue to do at York College,” Barshinger states.

My inspirations are my past experiences and my growth throughout the sport. I have been able to overcome odds that many people with EDS struggle to accomplish, and my hard work paid off in high school. I’ve had a front row seat of what can happen when you put your mind to something, and that inspires me to keep breaking that boundary of my abilities.

— Natalie Cottrell

While she still has three more years to break more records, she still struggles with her genetic disorder. There is no cure for EDS, so Cottrell will do as she has been doing- pushing through her physical setbacks to work toward success.

“Everything happens for a reason, and I really believe that I am just meant to trust the process and keep persevering,” Cottrell says.

This story was originally published on The Beacon on April 18, 2024.