Courtesy of Tucker Rivera
We’ve all been there.
Bored at a mid-season meet, rather than, “warming up,” or, “cooling down,” we spend our time playing catch, playing soccer, and frankly, competing anywhere but the pool.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that a young student-athlete doesn’t really care about the meet he’s competing in. Let’s say, that before the meet even begins, that young, overzealous athlete sees other talented athletes throwing a Frisbee; he attempts to join in on the festivities. Let’s say, that he does so wearing nothing but his speedo, and that he slips in a puddle of water (ironically) very far away from the pool.
Let’s say, literally, that in his spontaneous fit of fleeting dexterity, he broke his foot, sprained his shoulder, and can’t swim for eight weeks.
Eight weeks ago, if you hadn’t guessed it already, that’s what happened to me.
Alas, due to many involuntary, yet self-inflicted, hours of reflection, I have learned many a thing that I would like to relay to all of my semi-aquatic brothers and sisters:
1. If you’re hurt, don’t “walk-it-off.”
Directly after my slip-up, I knew that something—many things were wrong. In order to minimalize embarrassment, I insisted to my peers that I was fine, before immediately requesting to my mother that I be taken to the urgent care. I was told that I had sprained both my foot and my shoulder and that I should stay out of the water for at least a week.
Needless to say, four days later, I was back in the water.
Two weeks after that, my foot felt significantly worse, and I returned for an MRI where I found that I had a wriggling fracture along the backside of the calcaneus bone in my heel.
As a swimmer (or a good swim parent), you should take pride on your very high pain tolerance. So much so, that when break your heel in half, you can walk on it for two weeks (and swim in two meets) before going to the doctor again. That being said, though pain tolerance is what often separates swimmers from other athletes, pain does not discriminate. If your shoulder is hurt, your knee is aching, your back is throbbing, or your hamstring is singing cacophony, go to the doctor. Countless swimmers (and bad swim parents) value their (child’s) training over their health, but fail to recognize that their health is what determines their ability to train.
Many fear that their coach will spite them for their errors, that their coach will not prioritize them in training, and that their coach will, simply, be a jerk about the situation; bar none, your coach will value six weeks of missed training (up-front), versus a chronic injury that disrupts your training for the rest of your career.
2. Swimming with a cast is absolutely horrendous
Deplorable? Scarring? Unbearable? These adjectives are but a few that can describe the ghastly experience of swimming with a cast. However, fear not, there are still many ways you can adapt to this 25th division of Hell.
According to many of my aquatic-mammal brethren, swimming with a cast on your hand or wrist is completely tolerable. The easiest way to avoid muscle atrophy in the arm is by swimming. But, if you’ve broken your arm at the elbow or above, your clavicle, or your scapula, you might have to succumb to being a NARP (“Non Athletic Regular Person”) until you’ve fully healed and gone through rehab.
If you’ve broken your neck, congratulations on being alive, I am glad that you are reading this, but you’re not necessarily included in my area of expertise. Take lots of naps? That seems to fix most things.
If you’ve broken your leg or your foot, you’ve stumbled across the right article, because I am your man! Rule #1: get a waterproof cast; Rule #2: don’t play yourself—you’re going to need a vacuum-sealed, rubber bag to make sure that any water that could infiltrate your cast won’t. If you don’t get a bag to cover your cast, I bid you good luck, my friend.
You think you like swimming? Try doing it with a 40 pound weight that doubles as a parachute, and then tell me how much you like it.
3. Training while broken is very difficult but entirely necessary.
After getting casted, I spent an entire eight days out of the water, to punish myself for waiting for four weeks to put it on. I was angry at the world, itchy because of the fabric, and ready to do whatever it took to get back in the water.
If you are an elite, college-ready athlete, you have to fight for your right to swim. You will be told to take time off, you will be told that they cannot give you a waterproof cast, and you will be told that you won’t be able to train at a high level. WRONG. Swimming as little as four to five times a week, can leave you capable of fully maintaining your endurance.
If you have a broken wrist, say hello to big kick sets and strong quads!
If you have a broken leg, say hello to your new best friend, the pull buoy!
Broken clavicle? NO BIGGIE, YOU’VE GOT BODYWEIGHT SQUATS AND CRUNCHES FOR DAYS.
Take a serious amount of time to determine the maximum output your body can create under your new set of stress. For every 100*100s, 400 IM ladder set, or hypoxic 50 that you’re missing out on, find your limit in different forms of exertion. Lift weights, go to Pilates, find a physical therapist, or invest time in finding a better diet. You’re going to feel lopsided, and you’re going to want to cry, and you’re going to worry about your future; but if breathing water during butterfly has ever made you feel lopsided, if the mile has ever made you want to cry, or adding time in your best event at a championship meet has ever made you worry about your future, then it should be clear to you that your injury is most definitely something that you can overcome.
Swimmers thrive off of silver linings: added time is overlooked by a well-executed race plan, a rival can inspire your greatest swimming, and pain can induce success. Sometimes, however, elite athletes refuse to accept when silver linings come in fiberglass.
If nothing else, I wish to remind all swimmers that they are a special breed of athlete. Whatever you do, try not to put yourself in a situation that renders you handicapped, incapable, or inferior to your regular self. As soon as you hit springtime in your freshman year of high school, any minor setback can derail your success and shift your goals—if you don’t take the necessary steps to ensure your safety and your fitness, you cannot succeed in the fast-paced world of swimming.
About Tucker Rivera
Tucker Rivera, a Futures qualified member of the University of Denver Hilltoppers, graduated from high school this past May. He will be swimming at and attending the University of Chicago, where he will begin his freshman year in the fall.