Healdsburg’s Nicastro overcomes brutal Achilles injury

Healdsburg’s Bianca Nicastro, third from right, finishes first in the 400 meters final at the SCL track finals at Elsie Allen on May 17. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

Healdsburg’s Bianca Nicastro, third from right, finishes first in the 400 meters final at the SCL track finals at Elsie Allen on May 17.
(JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Versatile as an athlete, fearless facing new challenges — Bianca Nicastro savors life in the fast lane.

Among the Empire’s all-time best over 400 meters, the Healdsburg senior also will run the 200 meters at the North Coast Section Redwood Empire Area Track & Field Championships at Redwood High on Saturday.

That she’s aiming to move on through the North Coast Section to the CIF state finals is remarkable. Less than a year ago her right Achilles tendon was shredded during a biking accident.

Walking again was difficult, let alone running with Northern California’s elite prep athletes. Being forced to sit on the sidelines for volleyball and basketball heightened her frustration. Yet she recovered, stronger both in body and mind.

“The past year has changed my life and how I view things,” Nicastro said. “Life just throws things at you that you have to overcome. I’ve really had to work for the success that I want.”

Always daring — snowboarding, mountain biking and triathlons are her other athletic pursuits — Nicastro took on the challenge. The journey from when she lay bleeding in the remote Trinity Alps northwest of Redding to taking those initial strides on the track was trying, but not defeating.

“If you take the stripes off a tiger, what is left? Bianca is fearless, but she also hates to lose,” said Healdsburg track coach Chris Puppione. “When she first hopped on that leg, when we asked her to first run was pretty scary. Coming to grips with her vulnerability has made her even stronger.”

An athlete for all seasons, Nicastro was indefatigable until her debilitating injury.

As a freshman at Ursuline, she played junior varsity volleyball, freshman basketball and varsity lacrosse. The school’s closing was a blow, but Nicastro soon found plenty of sports to play at Healdsburg. She competed in JV volleyball and basketball as a sophomore.

“I’ve always been active. I love being healthy and feeling great,” she said. “If I didn’t play sports, I don’t know what I would do.”

Playing both varsity volleyball and basketball as a junior resulted in an all-league selection in volleyball.

Come spring, Nicastro went out for track at the urging of friends on the team. She competed in the pole vault as a sophomore and blossomed trying a variety of events the following season.

“I started to get pretty fast, all of a sudden. It’s sort of crazy. I thought I could accomplish something,” Nicastro said.

What a breakout campaign she enjoyed.

At the Sonoma County League finals her junior year, Nicastro won the 400 meters and was second in three events — the 200 meters, pole vault and high jump. She went on to make the NCS Meet of Champions final in the 400 meters, setting the Healdsburg school record.

“Her versatility is nearly unmatched. It is not often that you have a kid that is both willing and able to do so many events,” Puppione said. “Bianca’s best attribute is her daring and her openness to new things.”

Coming off such a promising junior year Nicastro’s push for athletic excellence suffered a severe setback. The biking accident came in late June, just a month after track season.

Cruising on a paved road in the Trinity Alps, northwest of Redding, she locked handlebars with another rider. The other bike’s chain ring severed her right Achilles tendon.

“I couldn’t walk. I knew it was bad,” Nicastro said.

Stitched up in Weaverville, Nicastro returned to Healdsburg for surgery.

Recovery would be slow and difficult.

“I had a lot of moments where I just cried and cried,” she said. “I had so much time being insecure about my injury.”

The next two months Nicastro was in a hard cast. She worked on strengthening exercises for legs and her core body.

Once in a walking boot she could add cardio workouts. Over four months Nicastro ran and swam in a pool. Eventually she was able to jog on a treadmill.

Athlete and coach also focused on getting her right leg equal in strength with the left.

“Once I started to get back into it, I felt pretty strong,” she said. “I was mentally ready to conquer this.”

Questions about whether Nicastro could run as she had before the injury or train in time for her senior season did not dog her determination. Some actual running began in December.

“She’s always up for a challenge,” Puppione said. “She’s back on her feet and training better than ever.”

Still, there have been hurdles.

She couldn’t sprint at her top speed until April, and she’s still seeking that top gear.

“I’ve had some workouts where I collapsed at the finish line,” she said. “But I would get up, proud of the work I put in and then go in the weight room and just lift.”

With the focus on getting her back up to speed, Nicastro has limited pole vaulting and high jumping. This season,

Nicastro has run personal bests in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 800 meters. Her times in the latter two events are both third in the Empire so far on the season.

In her best event, the 400 meters, Nicastro is ahead of last year’s training pace.

“She is starting to round into form,” Puppione said.

With the top qualifying time going into the Redwood Empire meet, Nicastro wants a strong enough finish at the NCS finals to qualify for the state championships.

“Amazingly, I’m better than I was at this time last year,” she said. “I think I’ll discover that little something extra.”

Michael Coit can be reached at Mike.Coit@pressdemocrat.com.

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