I had no plans to swim in college. That was never something I had planned on when I began applying to college. My initial plan was to move as far away from my hometown as my parents would let me go. In fact, I think it was pretty much fate that lead me to my collegiate swimming career. If it wasn’t for that school, I may not have earned the degrees in my subject fields, the current career path I’m on, and possibly even the mental strength I possess to deal with my chronic illness.
I had received a pamphlet in the mail about my university, and my parents encouraged me to look it up. When they realized it was twelve hours away, they were hesitant, but the affordability of university eased their minds. For whatever reason, they agreed to drive me TWELVE HOURS out to South Dakota, and we looked at a few other schools on the way. The funniest part about all of this was that after touring the other schools, I had no interest in attending the college I ended up graduating from. It wasn’t until I ran into a professor, who then introduced me to the head swim coach, that I had any interest in my university. Like I said, complete fate is how I believe this all came together. Two months later, my future coach called to inform me that there was a spot on the team if I wanted it. While I had not originally planned to swim in college, much less at the Division II level, I found myself committing.
My college swim career did not go as I planned. I never thought that I’d break records or earn a national time cut, but I sure as hell did not think I’d miss almost a year and a half collectively. My first injury came my sophomore year of college. I began experiencing pain my right groin area, but I ignored it. I was running and swimming four hours a day, and was honestly still getting used to the demands of college athletics. It wasn’t until I found myself in extreme pain during a kick set that I made my way to the trainers, and it wasn’t until I was crying while walking across my small campus to get to class that I asked for things to be escalated. An x-ray and three MRI’s later, it was determined that I had torn the labrum in my right hip, and I needed surgery. I ended up missing the entirety of my sophomore season, but gained that year back with a medical red-shirt.
It was frustrating to have to sit on the sidelines and watch my teammates compete. It was frustrating to sit through four months of physical therapy post-surgery until I was cleared to swim. All I wanted to do was be back in the pool with my teammates, and I was SO relieved when that day finally came. I had been out of the water almost six months, and I was not in the same shape as when I left the pool. I worked my butt off to get back to where I was before I had surgery. Then during the middle of a practice where I was finally feeling like I was back at pre-injury speed, my coach pulled me out of the pool again. Except this time, it was very obvious something was wrong. My right arm was swollen, and my hand was a blueish-purple color. Within the next two days it would be determined that I had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and had then developed Paget-Schroetter Syndrome. I had a blood clot in my shoulder, and underwent surgery within the next week. I missed ANOTHER six weeks of swimming, required more physical therapy, and was not cleared to compete until about two months later. It was another frustrating recovery period, but I was yet again optimistic that I could come back just as strong.
My third full year of swimming was one of my best. I had be voted captain of my team, I was back to times that I had been seeing before either surgery, and I made finals in every event I swam at my conference meet. Then my last year, I slipped on the ice in the parking lot before morning practice and fractured my left radius. I was only out for about a month, but it made made me question taking my fifth year. I was frustrated, I wanted to quit, and I was devastated with the luck I seemed to have. Somehow though, I came back for a third time. My arm healed, and I finished out my year with the same optimism and positivity that I had shown during my other two injuries. It was tough, but I loved swimming and I wanted to finish out my career.
After I graduated college, I thought I was done with being injured. I was ready to live a normal life, workout when I wanted, and start my professional career in the STEM field. That following August, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I was furious, terrified, and any of the strength I had shown during my previous health battles was gone. The moment that I realized that there was no cure or quick fix, it destroyed me. I had been so lucky before with my previous problems. They could all be fixed, but no doctor in the world at this time can make my pancreas produce insulin again. It was a hard pill to swallow, and it was even harder to accept that there was no way to prevent this.
After going through what felt like the five stages of grief, I accepted my diagnosis. It certainly wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t a fast process, but I found the same strength I had during my doomed collegiate swim career. I think that the strength I experienced so many times before helped me carry the weight of my Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis. If I had not gone to my university and swam, and experienced that kind of set back, I think my acceptance of my diagnosis would have been very different. The way I carry myself as a Type 1 Diabetic could be very different. I am certainly not happy that I have to live with this awful disease, but I’m thankful for the experiences that I have had so far, no matter how difficult they were at the time. They helped proved to me that I can get through some of the hardest days with Diabetes.