Shouts From The Stands: “Shaking Off” Epilepsy As A Collegiate Swimmer

by SwimSwam 6

November 16th, 2017 Lifestyle

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Joey Puglessi, a sophomore swimmer at the University of Cincinnati:

I woke up to a prick of the finger, while in the arms of a paramedic. Despite being at home, I had no idea where I was. A mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces surrounded me; medical professionals studied my every move while teammates assured me that everything was fine.

You had a seizure”. It took until I arrived at the emergency room for such foreign words to sink in. Two days later, I was discharged with no answers.

A month following the first incident, it happened at a volunteering event. A few days later, it happened again in class.

Of course, my first thought was, “how will this impact the rest of my collegiate swim career?”

In regards to epilepsy, the pool presents a unique danger that other sports don’t: drowning. It is relatively easy to make epilepsy work on the court, field, track and in other athletic realms. However, the thought of having a seizure in the water makes doctors uneasy, causing substantial time out of the pool to be a common occurrence for epileptic swimmers.

Swimming, especially in college, is a lifestyle; one that’s often difficult to appreciate until it is in jeopardy. In my case, the doctors still haven’t cleared me to swim. Despite being inevitably upset about the questionable future of my season, there are ways to make time out of the water (whether or not you have epilepsy) more bearable, and even beneficial. Here are 8 things that I consider to be incredibly important while dealing with such adversity:

Relying on your team | As a swimmer, your teammates and coaches serve as your second family. They care about you not only as a swimmer but as friends and companions. Never hesitate to reach out to your team for help as you go through challenging times; chances are, everyone has had unique experiences throughout their life and career that they can use to help you through what you’re facing. That’s what they’re there for!

Being a good teammate | Even though you may not be able to contribute in the pool at a certain time, that doesn’t mean you can’t help your team! Bringing positive energy to every workout you attend, supporting teammates in workouts and outside of swimming, helping coaches recruit future teammates, and being a good leader is just the beginning of the endless list of ways that you can make your team better and help build your program – all of which are doable even when you aren’t cleared to swim.

Working hard outside of the pool | Many swimmers dealing with epilepsy may be cleared to workout outside the pool, including weights and dryland. It is so important to take advantage of these opportunities. The better shape you are in outside the pool, the easier it will be to get back into swimming shape when the doctors finally give you the green light!

Staying on top of your studies | As a student-athlete, school obviously comes before athletics, but it can often be a source of stress. For swimmers with epilepsy, keeping stress low makes you less susceptible to seizures. A great way to reduce stress, especially while being unable to relieve it in the pool, is to stay ahead of your schoolwork!

Taking care of yourself | Health is always of utmost importance. Swimmers should remember the basics of self-care, from hydration to proper nutrition and sleep. However, swimmers with epilepsy or other medical conditions, require extra personal awareness. Staying on top of medications, limiting stress, and being conscious of how you feel (physically and mentally) is pivotal. This will help prevent future episodes and will keep you healthy, happy, and in the pool.

Utilize your resources | It is so important to remember that there is no shame in seeking out help. Whether you miss class for a medical reason and request a tutor, need the advice of an athletic trainer, or need to talk to a sports psychologist to help combat the mental aspect of what you’re enduring, those options are available to help you come out of these obstacles stronger than before. You are not in this alone.

One day at a time | When life gets a little bit shaky, don’t overwhelm yourself by catastrophizing the situation. Take it day by day; each day will have its own set of challenges, but every day you have a chance to make the most of what life gives you. The thought of weeks of struggle may seem daunting, but taking it one day at a time is manageable. Waking up with that perspective every single morning will ease the difficulty.

Keeping it all in perspective | Times of adversity never lack a silver lining. Whether it’s tomorrow, in a year, in a decade or even longer, one day, it will all make sense and everything will work out. On top of that, taking time away from the pool makes it easier to understand why you keep living this grueling lifestyle: for your teammates, years’ worth of memories, and the valuable life lessons it has taught you. Your best times or extensive time out of the water will never matter as much as these.

Everything happens for a reason. Even if you aren’t sure why you’re going through this, take advantage of every opportunity you’re given to improve to yourself and those around you. When epilepsy or other hardships try to stop you from achieving your goals, show how nothing can hold you back from being the best student-athlete, teammate and person possible.

…and when life gives you seizures: Carpe Diem.

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. To get the conversation rolling and learn more about epilepsy, click here to visit the Epilepsy Foundation webpage.

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Angela lambing
3 years ago

Awesome article and very insightful. Great job! Hang in there.

Patty Korte
3 years ago

God bless you Joey. You are a fine young man with a lot of wisdom!

Auntie Prudy
3 years ago

Joey, your article was so well written, with the wisdom of an adult. I was so sorry to hear of this from your grandpa last week. Your attitude is so excellent about this. That will be your most important factor !
We will be praying for your strength, and adjustment to this . We ask for God’s will in returning you back to the sport you love so much. We praise God that the seizures happened at times, and in places, that did not put your life in danger.
We love you.❤️

David Tole
Reply to  Auntie Prudy
3 years ago

Incredible article from such a young man! We will pray for God’s will to be done as I know you will make the best of it!