College Runner Who Almost Burned To Death Makes The Ultimate Comeback

“If you put your mind and heart into what you want to do, you’ll be able to do more than you think is possible and you can really surprise yourself. I surprised myself.”


A college runner, who was severely burned in a terrible accident in 2016, is all set to hit the track again after a long recovery.

University of Toledo track star Janelle Noe had more than half her body severely burned due to a prank gone wrong at a college house party. She almost didn’t make it to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) meet in the first place, in large part because of her scars.

She doesn’t usually run well in the heat. That’s because the scars she bears from the burns that she suffered over half of her body affect her temperature regulation. The most dangerous were those on her chest, which threatened her vital organs.

When she arrived at the NCAA East Preliminary Championships in Florida the heat and humidity worried her, but there was nothing that could stop her.

Despite all the health issues, Noe qualified for the NCAA final in the 1,500 meter run. She finished 4th overall in the qualifying heats, just 0.75 of a second behind the winner, Elinor Purrier of New Hampshire.

Noe finished in 4 minutes, 20.37 seconds, and was named second-team All-America after the race.

In 2016 not even two and a half years ago she was in the intensive care unit, covered in gauze, with life-threatening burns from her neck to her knees and now she’s back at what she loved doing the most. 

“When I crossed the finish line, I was so happy. I couldn’t stop saying, ‘I made it, I made it,’ because I couldn’t believe it.”

The runner had plenty of reasons to doubt she’d run again, let alone make NCAAs. But one step at a time, she came back then just kept going.

Her coaches stood beside her down the road to recovery and kept encouraging her.

“I can’t feel anything but immense pride for what she’s accomplished this season. For what she’s done this year, it’s been a dream season really and I told her this morning that if we walk away from here and she finished last in the race today, we’re going to walk away happy and smiling. There’s no other way you can look at it, it was a huge success,” said Coach Linh Nguyen.

The coach added, “Nothing’s given and I think she, more than anyone, knows that nothing beyond today is guaranteed. I just want her to stay healthy. If she stays healthy and trains consistently then I think she can do special things next year.”

However, Noe still faces limitations. She has to be careful running in the heat and shield her skin from the sun.

But these obstacles won’t stop her.

“If you put your mind and heart into what you want to do, you’ll be able to do more than you think is possible and you can really surprise yourself. I surprised myself,” she said.

Noe has been receiving notes of encouragement from strangers around the country;

“I’m getting messages from people I don’t know, saying how it’s inspiring them,” she said. “It’s really a blessing to know, to be a role model like that.”

Thumbnail, Banner: Reuters, Rogan Ward

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