In August 2018, a room full of doctors told me that my 13-year swimming career was over. I had two grand-mal seizures and was diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. They said that the risk of drowning was too high, and the stress that swimming and waking up early every day put on my body would be too much. It was the end of my sophomore year of college, and I had worked so hard to get to where I was. I still had so much to prove. I was going to score so many more points for my team.
It broke me. I tried everything I could to replace it. I joined a sorority, which was totally uncharacteristic for me, and did NOT work out. Nothing worked. Nothing filled the void that swimming left. It was literally an identity crisis.
I was still as involved as possible. I was able to keep my scholarship and travel with my team. My new event was on the sidelines, cheering on all of my teammates. I was contributing as much as I could with the situation at hand, but it didn’t feel like enough. I was a 100 flyer, and every time I watched the event, the athlete in me was crushed. I can honestly say that sitting on the sidelines for those 2 years was harder than any 200 fly or 400 IM ever could be.
This past January was my milestone of being one-year seizure-free. Even though I wasn’t cleared to train with the team, I asked my doctor if I could swim at our conference meet. I couldn’t stand the thought of never diving off the block again. With limitations, he begrudgingly said yes. I talked to my coach. I pulled on my tech suit, the one thing I did NOT miss about swimming, and I warmed up for my final race: the 50 free. My arms felt heavy. I realized that that’s what it felt like for normal people.
Earlier in my career, if you had told me I’d swim the 50 free at ANY conference meet, I would’ve laughed. But it was all I was cleared for and also the only event I would’ve actually been able to keep up with. I got up on the block and it felt familiar. It felt like finally coming home. I put my head down, went underwater as long as possible, and kicked like my life depended on it. I hit the touchpad and my teammates and family went crazy.
Somehow, I swam a lifetime best. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or what, but it was one of the best moments of my swimming career. I touched in sixth, but it was better than any other race. No first place or lifetime best will ever compare to the feeling I had on that block.
It wasn’t the way I pictured my last race would go. It wasn’t the ending I wanted, but it was the ending I needed. I got to show epilepsy that it didn’t have the final say.