UI sprinter Jones back in top form

UI sprinter Jones back in top form

By: Dave Wischnowsky

By: Dave Wischnowsky

By: Dave Wischnowsky

By: Dave Wischnowsky

CHAMPAIGN – It was just another Monday when Illinois sprint coach Willie Williams showed up at the Armory for track practice last November.

Training had gone well over the weekend, and his sprinters were gearing up for the 1998 season.

Then Chris Jones blew a gasket.

"I got to practice and the guys said, 'Did you know that Chris was in the hospital?' " Williams said of when he first learned his standout sophomore sprinter had fallen ill."

The night before, Jones was awakened at 3 a.m. by intense abdominal pains.

"I didn't know what the problem was at first," Jones said. "But after a couple of minutes, I knew exactly what it was."

When he was 8 years old, Jones had surgery for a burst appendix, leaving him with scar tissue in his large intestine. Six years later, the scar tissue became inflamed, causing Jones severe pain. To correct the condition, doctors had to remove part of his intestine, leaving Jones with adhesions. Then, six years after that surgery, Jones was feeling that all-too-familiar pain again.

"It was more than pain," he said. "You can't even walk."

Jones spent two weeks in the hospital. He had surgery to repair his intestine and missed a month of school – and practice.

"I was the strongest I'd ever been," Jones said of his condition prior to the illness. "Training had been going good. I was feeling better than I did at the same time last season."

Impressive, considering the whirlwind of a freshman season Jones had. The Lisle native was named Big Ten Indoor Freshman of the Year after winning the conference title in the 400 meters and finishing second in the 200.

But after having surgery and losing 11 pounds, Jones didn't know what to expect.

"I could tell right off the bat that I had lost a lot," he said.

It wasn't until two weeks ago at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in West Lafayette, Ind., that Jones started feeling like himself.

At the meet, Jones repeated as champ in the 400, took fourth in the 200 and ran the first leg of the first-place 4x400 relay, accounting for a team-best 171/2 points for the fourth-place UI.

"I went in with an open mind. I wanted to win, but I understood I had to try to do the best I could," Jones said. "But I wasn't going to use going to the hospital as an excuse."

There will be no excuses this weekend, either, as Jones leads Illinois' men's 4x400 relay into the NCAA Indoor Championships beginning Friday in Indianapolis.

The men also will send 800 runner Bobby True. The women send seven individuals and one relay.

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