Written and courtesy of Judd Cribbs
It’s now been about a year and a half since I started trying to swim competitively, and I’ve been laid up for the past three months or so.
Sometime around Labor Day, I hurt my left shoulder. I’m not sure how or where I did it, but I do know it was not while I was swimming.
A few days before the Labor Day weekend, I swam laps with no problem. I didn’t swim during the weekend, but when I got back into the pool mid-week, my shoulder hurt when I swam. I kept swimming for about two more weeks and then stopped.
After resting it for about six weeks, I swam a few times in December and January, hoping to start up again. My shoulder wouldn’t hurt much during the swim, but it would hurt the next day. Mid-January, I decided to go on fulltime shoulder rest. It only hurt when I was swimming and wasn’t interfering (much) with my daily life. But I felt I should have it looked at, so in early February I went to see an orthopedic specialist.
The staff took x-rays and the doctor said I had “a bit” of arthritis and a bone spur. It was hard for me to hear that I had arthritis because I still feel like spring chicken at 54 despite my young kids’ proclamation that “Daddy is so very old.” Side note: The other day they asked me how I got around before cars were invented.
The doctor said I should get an MRI, where they inject dye, to further examine the shoulder. I got a call from his office a few days later, and when I called my insurance company, my out-of-pocket cost was going to be $370! Exactly how big does my insurance company think my pockets are?
I decided, perhaps wrongly, that I didn’t want the MRI. I certainly didn’t want surgery, especially since I can do pretty much everything pain-free except swim.
It just doesn’t feel urgent. And the MRI seemed like the first step down a long and costly path that I didn’t feel prepared to take.
Now, I am trying to figure out what to do. Since that visit, about two months ago, I’ve been resting the shoulder. I am trying to gently stretch the shoulder, and I’m going to ask my regular doctor to give it a once-over in a few months.
Also, again perhaps wrongly, I am looking at an alternate swimming strategy. There are two meets in Florida for Masters swimmers in mid and later summer. Maybe I train on dry land for one of those, and only get into the pool now and then to stay fresh? Maybe then I enter the meets and win the competition, becoming the toast of Masters swimmers everywhere? Maybe I am then on a Wheaties Box in all my shoulder-be-damned glory? Or maybe the whole idea completely flames out. Yeah, maybe that.
I am trying to play it cautiously, because I really don’t want to do any further damage or have any long-term complications. I have a little leeway because I am right-handed, and it’s my left shoulder giving me fits. So I can still throw a ball to my kids and dogs without any problem.
With regard to competitive swimming, as a dear colleague once said, “This might be the time when the great idea hits the wall of reality.” But I can’t let go of the idea, at least not yet. I can still run and ride my stationary bike. I can still swim in short sessions without much discomfort.
I can still train. And that means I can still dream.
Judd Cribbs is a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. When he is not swimming or teaching, he enjoys gardening, playing the piano (poorly), and chasing his two kids around the house.