After Bridgette Doucet essentially came out of nowhere her sophomore year and finished second at the Division II state cross-country meet, it looked as if she would have a smooth and clear path to winning a championship in no time.
It’s been anything but.
The Canyon del Oro High School junior is back on the track this spring and once again putting up remarkable times — two of the best in Division II — but at any time she could be forced to step away from her love of running, once again and perhaps for good.
Just before her freshman year, Doucet was diagnosed with anorexia. She has been overcoming the disease since then, but last summer, it became a serious concern: Her weight began to drop steadily to a potentially dangerous level. Because of that, she attended an outpatient clinic and then chose to sit out the cross-country season as a precaution.
“They wanted to make sure my weight didn’t continue to drop to a dangerously low place so that I wouldn’t be able to compete at all any time,” said Doucet, who was named the Star’s girls cross-country Runner of the Year in 2012. “That’s why I had to take that time to boost back up to where I needed to be, and that’s also why we’re being careful this season.”
Doucet will be running the 800 meters at today’s Mario Castro Invitational at UA’s Roy P. Drachman Stadium. Last month, Doucet won the 3,200 in a speedy 11 minutes 6.52 seconds at that same location during the Willie Williams Classic.
Last weekend, at Glendale Deer Valley’s Westside Invitational, Doucet won the 1,600 by nearly 20 seconds and the 3,200 by almost 52 seconds. With the state championship meet just three weeks away, she has the best times in the 1,600 (5:11.67) and the 3,200 (11:00.65) in Division II.
Making it even more impressive, Doucet has been dominant by running no more than 30 miles a week, at least 10 fewer miles than longtime Canyon del Oro coach Rick Glider normally asks of his female distance runners.
The reason Doucet was able to resume her running career this spring is because her weight is more stable, and she’s seeing a nutritionist, a therapist and taking supplements to help keep everything on the right track. She has her ups and downs but said, along with her family, she has been trying to come up with a plan to make it possible for her to continue running competitively through her senior year.
“We want to make sure I can have a healthy life,” she said. “Not just for this season and my high school career, but throughout my life.”
Sitting out wasn’t easy for her nor anyone else involved, especially given the high possibility of her winning a state championship. Rather than hide behind it, she chose to tell Glider and the team why. Since then, they’ve been nothing but supportive.
“She came to us, and we were crying,” Glider said. “I wouldn’t have had the courage to do that, to face the team and say I was anorexic.”
But just because she wasn’t able to race, Doucet remained a part of the team as a captain and enjoyed simply being around her teammates. There was some uncertainty if she would ever get to run competitively again, but she relied on her Christian faith and a lot of prayer.
“The really hard part was going to the races,” Doucet said. “Being there and hearing the gun go off and having to realize it was not my turn yet.”
While it definitely wasn’t an easy choice, it was certainly wise for Doucet to put a hiatus on her running. Otherwise, it could have potentially been fatal or she could have suffered from severe long-term effects including heart problems, fertility issues and bone density loss, the main things her mother, Carrie, was concerned about.
“When Bridgette runs, it’s like watching a ballerina,” she said. “That grace and that beauty and talent that God gave her. However, for her, it’s also like watching the dance of death because it’s very difficult for her to maintain that balance that she needs.
“I don’t care what medal, what title or what record she breaks. That means nothing to me if she’s not alive.”
At first, Glider had a hard time accepting the idea of Doucet sitting out the cross country season because he thought she was misdiagnosed and just had the slender build of a distance runner. But the more he researched the disorder, the more he realized she had it and how dangerous the continuation of running could have been.
“It kind of opened my eyes, and I accepted it more,” Glider said. “It still hurts, and it’s hard to take, but at least I understand it more.
“I’m aware we could lose her at any time.”
For now, Doucet is hoping to finish out this season by winning a state title or two and expects to be back on the cross-country course next fall as long as her recovery continues. She’s unsure about continuing the sport in college and said it would mainly depend on her condition and how it would affect her in the long run.
“I have a dream one day that I’m going to be there for my daughter, my granddaughter or for my son or grandson and just be able to be there for them so they don’t have to go through what I’ve gone through,” she said.