Dalee Higgins’ inspirational comeback: Running with Crohn’s Disease

Dalee Higgins’ inspirational comeback: Running with Crohn’s Disease

The last two years have been a trial for Dalee Higgins ’25, a junior on the University of the Pacific cross country and track and field team.

The native of Tempe, Arizona went from being a top three runner on the team to battling health issues midway through her sophomore season. Higgins was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic condition that affects the digestive tract.

“I never thought in a million years that I would end up with something like this,” she said.

Dalee Higgins a champion fundraiser for Tigers

Higgins came to Pacific in 2021 after head coach Josh Jones saw her potential. It never crossed her mind to run in college. Growing up in Tempe, Higgins competed as a gymnast in middle school and most of high school before injuries ended her career.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Higgins got into running which led her to join her high school’s cross country and track team. She ended up qualifying for state in three events: the 800 meters, 4×400-meter relay and 4×800-meter relay.

Though her freshman year with the Tigers started rocky—she broke her foot before the cross country season—she fully participated in cross country as a sophomore. It wasn’t until the following spring when Higgins started feeling fatigued and dizzy during track competition.

“They ran some tests, and told me, ‘We don’t see anything wrong,’” she said. “Then they ran another test and said maybe this could be Type 1 diabetes. We went down that route and it wasn’t.”

Higgins returned home for spring break to get a second opinion and doctors noticed some red flags. They encouraged Higgins to stay home for more testing, but she was determined to finish the track season. She participated in five events in seven meets.

During the summer, Higgins ended up in surgery where doctors diagnosed her with Crohn’s disease.

She began treatment following the diagnosis. Higgins’ plan requires her to do her own injections every 14 days. She also requires injections for the nutrients she can’t absorb and oral medication to keep her Crohn’s disease under control.

At the start of her junior year, Higgins missed the 2023 cross country season to focus on her health and get back into shape. She returned to competition at the Liberty Open Feb. 3, 2024.

Despite being back with the team, she grapples with the reality that she won’t be the same caliber of runner she used to be.

“Coach has always told me I have so much potential,” Higgins said. “I think it hit me that I’m never going to be as good as everybody thought I would be because my body basically attacked itself, and it was definitely hard.”

The junior has seen her role on the team change, but it has not stopped Higgins from being a team player for Pacific.

“These girls are like a family to me,” she said. “I adore all of them. The nice thing about a small team is there are no cliques.  And coach is understanding about my needs. Having him acknowledge that I’m going to be doing what’s best for me and that we are still able to work something out where I can compete is nice.”

Pacific competed at the Hornet Invitational at Sacramento State this past weekend and will head to the Mike Fanelli Track Classic at Chabot College on March 29 and 30. Check out the full schedule.

“Dalee has done a great job of processing the situation and striving to keep being her best,” Jones said. “I’m proud of her determination to not let Crohn’s disease get the best of her.”

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