Drew Thompson is running faster than ever this cross-country season, and with good reason.

Following last season, Thompson had a 15-inch titanium bar removed from his chest. He moved onto Columbus North’s varsity as a senior this fall and has been one of the Bull Dogs’ top four runners for most of the year.

“This year, I was really focused on having a great season since it’s my last year,” Thompson said. “I really wanted to improve, and the team has really helped out a lot with that. We have a lot of fast guys and good coaching.”

Thompson had a genetic condition where his sternum did not grow with his ribs, so prior to his freshman year, he had to have his sternum fixed to pop it back out. Dr. Fred Rescorla at Riley Hospital For Children drilled holes under Thompson’s arms and placed the titanium bar beneath his ribs and across his chest.

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Following the procedure, Thompson couldn’t run for a month and couldn’t swim for two months through the recovery process.

“That whole summer, I was just holed up at home and couldn’t really do anything,” Thompson said. “So I just tried to go hard at training after that to get back to where I was. I think it’s forced me to work harder to get back physically and in shape. I think it’s just an extra motivation to get back to where I was.”

Thompson certainly has gone beyond that. He ran a personal-best 16 minutes, 46 seconds for 5,000 meters at last month’s Eagle Classic at Brown County.

Saturday, on the same Eagle Park course, Thompson ran 16:48 to finish 13th individually and help lead North to a regional title.

“He’s definitely progressed,” first-year North coach Danny Fisher said. “I still think there’s a little bit of a jump he can make this weekend and even next weekend at state if we get that far. We’re looking for that big (time) drop. He’s been steady and kind of plateaued.”

Saturday, Thompson wants to go 16:30 at the Brown County Semistate and help the Bull Dogs qualify for the state finals as a team.

Thompson also swims and runs track for North. He said he got used to the bar in his chest during his freshman and sophomore years, but that it caused a little discomfort in swimming.

“After I got used to it, it was fine, but it caused some problems because I had these brackets that tied it to my ribs, and especially during swim season, I had a lot of problems with it scraping against my muscles,” Thompson said. “But now, it’s better. I don’t have any problems, and I feel like I have more lung capacity as a result.”

Thompson was an Indiana Track and Cross Country Coaches Association honorable mention Academic All-State selection in track this spring. He recently was selected honorable mention Academic All-State for this cross-country season.

Next year, Thompson is thinking about walking on to the cross-country team at Ole Miss or Indiana University.

“I’ve been more impressed with how he’s progressed outside of racing,” Fisher said. “In training and our logbook sessions, he’s helped rally the troops to make sure people are on board and engaged and that they have the correct attitude at practice and in races. Drew is one of those kids that a lot of our kids on our team look up to. He’s done well understanding that and leading those underclassmen.”

If you go

What: Brown County cross-country semistate

When: 11:30 a.m. Saturday (boys), 12:15 p.m. Saturday (girls)

Where: Eagle Park, Nashville

Who: 20 boys teams, including, Columbus North, Jennings County and Brown County, plus indiviuals AJ Goecker of Trinity Lutheran and David Seelye of Hauser; 20 girls teams, including Columbus North, Columbus East, Jennings County, plus Brown County individuals Emilia Koester, Anna Fleetwood and Emma DeBord

Admission: $5

Advancement: Top six boys and girls teams, plus top 10 individuals on nonadvancing teams qualify for state finals

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.