On the third day of practice for winter track in December, Clearview senior Zion Fearon had just started training when an innocent slip changed the trajectory of his season.
“It was a freak accident,” Fearon said.” I stepped down and just rolled my ankle. I didn’t think it was as bad as it was. It just got really swollen, so I realized I had to get to the doctor.”
The diagnosis was not good: Fearon had fractured the talus bone in his ankle, causing him to miss most of the indoor track season.
“It was really disappointing,” Fearon said. “At the start of the season, I thought I was in the best shape of my life.”
A little more than two months later, Fearon was back on the track in the South Jersey Group 3 sectional meet. In only his second meet since returning from the injury, Fearon had the best performance of his high school career, winning the 400m run with a time of 51.26 seconds and helping the Pioneers’ 4x400m relay team to a second-place finish. Fearon’s first-place finish qualified him for the NJSIAA Group Championships for the first time in his career.
400 sectional champion😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😎Group 3 time 51.26 pic.twitter.com/ucC2rQ8EQ5
— View Winter Track (@ViewWinter) February 16, 2020
Fearon’s triumph at sectionals came after a year of injury-related setbacks. In 2019, Fearon didn’t have the opportunity to run in the indoor sectionals after a knee injury sidelined him for the second half of the winter season and the start of the spring season. Despite missing the first month of spring, Fearon came back from his injury to finish 19th at outdoor sectionals in the 400m run and 12th in the 400m hurdles.
Prior to his ankle injury in December, Fearon said he felt better than he ever had in his high school career, having put a lot of work in during the offseason and getting past his knee injury. While it was disappointing to go down with the ankle fracture, Fearon realized the injury happened early enough that he could get back on the track before winter was over.
“I just told myself I would be (back),” he said. “I had my tough days (during recovery and physical therapy). But I knew there was an end goal and I knew I could reach that.”
Clearview track coach Dan Matozzo has seen one of his athletes come back from an injury to become a champion before. Last year, Aidan Burns battled back from a hamstring injury to become a sectional champ in the 55m dash. Matozzo felt Fearon and Burns had a number of things in common, such as an outstanding work ethic and motivation to prove to everyone they could not only recover from an injury, but thrive.
“He handled it very well,” Matozzo said of Fearon. “As a senior, he knew what he had to do and he’s taken full advantage of the races he’s had so far.”
Matozzo added Fearon’s family did an excellent job of making sure he stayed on track with the doctors and physical therapy throughout the winter. Fearon credits his family and his teammates for supporting him during the recovery process.
He also said he has really strong faith in God and makes sure to fit prayer into his busy schedule. Fearon’s faith has played a big part in helping him through difficult times in his career.
“For me, prayer is so much more than people may think of it,” he said. “I just believe God will look out for you and always do the right thing at the right time for you.”
Fearon’s official return to the track was just six days prior to sectionals at a Feb. 10 SJTCA meet. He ran a time of 51.25 seconds, more than a second faster than the 52.39 he ran at outdoor sectionals the previous year.
“I think they thought I’d be ready,” Fearon said of expectations from his coaches. “But I don’t think they thought I would have that speed.”
At sectionals, Fearon’s time was nearly identical to the Feb. 10 meet, as he clocked in at 51.26 seconds. Two days after winning at sectionals, Fearon ran in the 400m at the Eastern States Championship and set a new PR with a time of 50.78.
Fearon has also contributed to Clearview’s 4x400m relay team, helping the team of himself, Paul Donahue, George Kniaz and Jack Rhoades run a school-record time of 3:33.77 in the event at sectionals. As exciting as it was to excel as an individual, Fearon is a team-first player and felt the relay record meant just as much, if not more, than his 400m victory.
“Honestly, I’d rather win as a team than win individually,” he said. “Just to celebrate as a whole and know that where we started and where we came from, that we all did really well.”
Fearon is determined to run track in college and, while he’s struggled to attract attention with his injury woes, he’s beginning to have colleges reach out after his recent success. Matozzo believes Fearon could be an asset to any college program, and with the spring season still ahead, there’s plenty of time left for Fearon to make a lasting impression.