See more photos from the day here in Alex McDougall’s photo gallery.
Some moments in life rush at us so fast, are so unexpected, there is no way to prepare for them. Often such moments are tragic, but provided they are not too permanent or life altering, these moments have the power to remind us of what’s truly important, and to reveal our true character. On Saturday, during the finals of the 200 IM at the Michigan High School Division 1 State Swimming Championships, Ryan Geheb learned a little bit about his character. He can be proud of what he found.
Ryan, a sophomore at Hartland High School, had qualified third in the preliminaries with a lifetime best of 1:50.77. During the finals he wanted to swim faster than his seed time. Ryan got off to a good start, and by the end of the fly was in a virtual dead heat with two others. As expected, Ryan, a breaststroke specialist, fell behind a bit in the backstroke, but by the turn at the 100, he was .8 ahead of his prelim swim, and well on his way to going under his goal time. Ryan surged off the wall in the breaststroke, and after the pullout had already made up some of the distance the two leaders had opened up. Then came the moment.
At the far end of each lane at the Eastern Michigan University pool, there is a metal arch with a lane number. Apparently environmental factors had taken their toll on the bolts anchoring the arch to the pool deck. When teammates approached to cheer at the 125 turn, the lane number toppled over and hit Ryan on the top of his head. After that, it was as if everything moved in slow motion. There was no more surge, only Ryan swimming through the pain, getting to the wall as he had trained to do so many times.
“I asked myself for a split second: Should I keep going? Am I hurt? I immediately threw out any doubt in my mind and just kept swimming the race”– Ryan Geheb
He finished in 4th with a 1:51.75. Ryan was upset, but it wasn’t until he removed his cap in pain, disappointment, and frustration that suddenly everybody understood the full extent of what had happened.
With his rapid heart rate and the increased blood pressure of racing, crimson came gushing out of the top of Ryan’s head. A physician, the father of a top swimmer in the competition, immediately came to Ryan’s aid. After initial examination for symptoms of concussion, Ryan was helped to another location where the wound could be addressed, and the meet could continue. Fortunately, the wound was clean, and sterile strips, not stitches, were used to close it. Ryan was not exhibiting any signs of concussion, but such symptoms don’t always manifest right away.
The question then became, does Ryan swim his specialty, the 100 breast? Ryan had qualified second with a 55.8 and earlier in the day he had wanted to see if he could go faster, maybe even get under 55. Ryan’s coach, Sean Oxner , his parents, and the Doctor all conferred. In short order, Ryan’s dad asked the Dr.: “If this happened to your son, would you let him swim?”
To which the doctor replied: “I would not let him swim.”
Naturally, this was a hard decision for all involved. But it was the right one. According to his dad, Ryan accepted this, shed some tears, and went on about the business of cheering for his teammates…and recuperating.
Later, Ryan reflected on his experience: “Long story short, I’m very lucky to be okay. I could’ve gotten a concussion. I could’ve gotten knocked out. Things could have been a lot worse than they were. I’m beyond blessed to be able to have the chance to swim again this coming weekend. I really appreciate my teammates and my main goal that day was to cheer them on and help them perform to the very best of their abilities. I also knew a lot of people on the deck and I wanted them to swim fast, so I cheered them on.”
As of today, Monday, Ryan is still not exhibiting symptoms of concussion. While the energy of the high school state championships is hard to duplicate, the Michigan USA Swimming championships are next weekend, and Ryan may just have a little extra adrenaline in the tank for that one. Only now, Ryan enters the pool knowing exactly how precious it is to be able to compete at the highest level, how fleeting our time in the sun really is, and knowing that he has the courage and perseverance to swim through adversity. That will make him a tough competitor for a long time to come.
“We are blessed,” his father says.