KIAMA Downs athlete Keeleigh McCauley is thanking her lucky stars she received early treatment for an injury which could have turned into a stress fracture and kept her out of action for more than a year.
Following the euphoria of her brilliant showing in December at the Australian All Schools Championships in Darwin, where the 16-year-old Kiama High year 12 student won the under-18 100-metre hurdles and ran personal best times, a foot injury forced her to spend Christmas in a moon boot.
"It could have been so much worse," McCauley said.
"If it hadn't been treated early it could have escalated into a stress fracture and that would have seen me out of action for up to 12 months.
"It was such a thrill to win the All Australian title after winning it in the 16s last year, especially with the distance changing from 90 to 100 metres," she said.
Under the watchful eye of her sprint coach and mother, Linda, the focus is now on a successful recovery.
She eased her way back into training after an outstanding effort representing NSW at the Australia Day Interstate Surf Challenge, winning the under-17 beach sprint, flags and a couple of relays.
"It was good to get back in action after a break, and considering that I really didn't have any real training, I was happy," McCauley said.
"In the end the rest might have been beneficial as it has allowed me to freshen up."
The injury has ruled her out of the NSW Athletics titles, but she has qualified for the Australian Titles at Homebush in March. Success there will place her in line for a possible spot in the Australian Youth Olympics team.
"That really is a big one.
"I attended the under-17 Athletics Australia development camp in Canberra and met the coaches, but will need to get back into some hard training to make sure I'm ready for the Aussies. They only pick a team of eight - four girls and four boys - so the pressure will really be on.
"It is such a small window of opportunity in athletics at this level, but I really want to be an elite athlete - it's all I have dreamt of since I was little."
She has also already set her sights on representing both NSW and Australia in surf lifesaving.
The state trials take place the week before she goes to the athletics nationals, while the Australian titles will be held at Scarborough Beach in Perth at the end of March.
In addition to athletics and surf events, McCauley is also a member of the State Championship-winning Kiama High School open hockey team, and the Illawarra Academy of Sport hockey squad.
"My other goal would be to try and make the CHS state hockey team," McCauley said.
"But that's a long way off at the moment as far as my priorities go."