Montana State’s Courtney Stromme reflects on strides made since brain surgery

BOZEMAN — Montana State’s Courtney Stromme is one leg of the fastest 400-meter relay in the Big Sky Conference, a top-tier sprinter, and a Belgrade High School alum. But there’s more to her story.

“My freshman year I wasn’t sure I wanted to run track and field, so I didn’t,” Stromme said. “After that I was like, ‘You know, I really would like to be a part of something,’ and I missed running and working out, so sophomore year I trained all fall. Then going into Thanksgiving break I ended up having my health issues.”

Health issues happen for athletes, it’s part of the job. But for Stromme, hers were a little out of the ordinary.

“It was Cat-Griz weekend and I was selling 50/50 tickets with one of my teammates and my left side just started acting really weird,” she said. “I was unable to tear the tickets. Of course, it was the coldest game of the season that year and everyone was like, ‘Oh, your hands are probably just cold,’ so I just continued to sell tickets.”

“The next day I was really sick, my head hurt really bad, I had left-side weakness,” she continued. “I was, what, 20 years old. I didn’t know I was having a stroke or whatever I was going through at the moment. That was really tough to find out at such a young age. You think the worst thing is getting the flu or something.”

Stromme went to the student health services on the Montana State campus where they sent her to the emergency room for an MRI. Within hours she was being flown to Billings.

“When I first got flown to Billings I was told that I didn’t need surgery right away, I could have held out,” she said.

Stromme’s MRI showed brain abnormalities, but she decided to side with doctors and postpone her surgery. Then, things got serious.

“Later that week when I was going to get released, that’s when I had went unconscious,” she said. “I don’t know, they said I was acting really weird. That’s when they decided I needed to go into surgery right away due to my brain swelling.”

Surgery was successful, but it wasn’t until a few months later that Stromme found out she had a blood disorder called Factor V Leiden. According to www.mayoclinic.org, the disease “is a mutation of one of the clotting factors in the blood. This mutation can increase your chance of developing abnormal blood clots, most commonly in your legs or lungs.”

But for a diagnosis that required brain surgery, Stromme said it was the best possible outcome.

“A lot of people live their entire life without knowing they have Factor V Leiden. It just happened that something triggered mine,” she said. “I got a blood clot from it, which getting a blood clot in your brain is probably not good, but I definitely am thankful for not having to go through anymore surgeries. And then just being able to come back and do what I love.”

But the love didn’t come right away.

“I had to walk laps coming back, that was my workout. Or, you know, right after brain surgery I was playing cards as a mind workout,” Stromme said. “The coming back was so different than any other injury. I didn’t want to walk laps, I didn’t want to watch my teammates be getting so much better and me getting better in my own way, just not really getting anywhere as far as I wanted to.”

Then the day came that she was able to line up at the starting line.

“It was interesting. I’m pretty sure I ran a 16-second 100-meter, like, it was really slow,” she said, laughing. “I also was bald — people knew what I had gone through, I was just really embarrassed. I definitely felt like, ‘Why was I doing this? How am I ever going to get back to where I was?'”

After all that, how did she keep going?

“I definitely couldn’t set goals too high. I mean, there were days that I didn’t have a good workout or I didn’t have a good race at the track meet. I just needed to remember what I went through wasn’t just a small injury; it was something that has probably taken me a few years to get back from,” Stromme said. “I’m just very thankful for everyone that has stood by me. Now I’m just really thankful I just stuck with it.”

Flash forward to the present. Stromme is used to finishing strong, and her career at Montana State has been amazing. But in the race of life, this might be her best one yet.

“I would definitely say how well I’m doing is a miracle. At one point I definitely didn’t want to run this year, it was really hard. It took a lot of my parents, especially, telling me, ‘You know, just give it one more year. You have one more year. What’s it going to do? You were at rock bottom one time,'” she said.

“It can’t get any worse. I’m definitely so thankful about what has come my way and how it has taught me to, 1) not take things for granted and to be able to look at the bigger picture and when things aren’t going right, stay humble and run your race.”

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