When she entered high school, Riley Hays brought with her a love of running and a desire to be a part of the highly successful cross country program at Pendleton Heights.
But as a result of a diagnosis of pectus excavatum and the multiple surgeries that followed, Hays was unable to compete as a sophomore and junior. Despite long odds, Hays was able to return to the course this year and was a strong contributor to the PH team that advanced to semistate, earning her the 2018-19 Girls Comeback Player of the Year.
The condition, which came on during a middle school growth spurt, involves the breastbone sinking into the chest. In the case of Hays, it was putting pressure on her heart and causing her to pass out. She had surgery in 2015 to reposition the sternum, but it was unsuccessful, requiring a second procedure in 2017, prior to her junior season.
This year, despite still running with a titanium rod in her chest, Hays ran strong. She placed 20th at the Pendeton Heights sectional and 24th at the Delta regional, as she and the Arabians advanced on to the New Haven semistate. There, Hays placed 98th, scoring in 74th position as PH placed ninth.
The lone senior along with a talented roster of freshmen, Hays was looked to for leadership as well as placing.