Never Too Old To Dream: Battling Through The Pain

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.

Leave a Reply

4 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

Take care of yourself now. It is only going to get harder and more expensive later. I am a fellow shoulder-in-pain Masters swimmer. Simplest advice: Kick. A lot. When I acutely damaged my shoulder (not the daily aches and groans), PT told me I was out for swimming for a minimum 6 weeks. I am a little too pig headed for that, so I negotiated for ‘no arm swimming’. I kept my regular swim schedule and just kicked through all the permutations: strokes, various kick drills, body balance rotation – you name it. End result I was a much better swimmer. Also, as a prof you likely have access to your schools PT/OT areas. Use that as much as possible… Read more »


As somebody who went through a shoulder injury that went diagnosed even after MRI with dye, you know your body better than anybody. If you feel like something is really wrong then go get the MRI. If you don’t, then start doing some basic PT exercises with bands to help strengthen the muscles around your shoulder (you can find those with a quick google search or go ask a trainer at your school for some exercises). See if the PT exercises help and then go from there.


An age group coach that I know told me that one of his former coaches said to him once, “The swimmers who injure their shoulders always seem to become better swimmers” because they so much time focusing on kicking.

It might be worthwhile asking your PT about prehab exercises to do when you are able to start swimming again.

Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!