To The Swimmer Who Underwent Surgery…

Seven months ago, I suffered an injury that caused the labrum in my right shoulder to tear. I tried to train through it with the hope that it would heal naturally, but after a few months of half-practices, I was still having pain. I was told that my shoulder was extremely unstable and that surgery was recommended. I’ve been where you are.

You undergo surgery. The first few days or weeks that follow are probably not your best. You do your time in the sling or brace that you were given and you think that once it comes off, things will be better. That day comes and things are a little better.

You go into physical therapy with a positive attitude.

One day, you feel fine, and the next, you can’t move. It’s confusing, frustrating, and more often than not, doesn’t make any sense. The exercises seem pointless, and are so little compared to the training that you’re used to. You feel like you aren’t making any progress. But you are. You are making progress toward becoming a better athlete and healthier person.

Deep down, you know that you have a long way to go, but on the good days, you think you’ll beat the odds and the protocols may no longer apply to you. But your surgeon has another idea, and at the end of the day, it’s all the same: you still won’t be able to get back into the pool for a few months.

It can be very difficult to remember that the time out of the pool, the hours and hours of exercises that seem pointless, and the meets sitting on the bleachers are for your own benefit.

The end of the road probably seems pretty far away, but time flies. You will be back in the pool before you know it, doing exactly what you used to do, except even better.

Surgery not only fixes what’s broken, but it makes you stronger. Sure, it takes a good amount of time to regain that physical strength, but you will get it back. Of course, going through a medical procedure isn’t the ideal way to learn patience and perseverance, but it sure as hell teaches you how to work for something.

I have been challenged a thousand times in my life, especially as an athlete, but recovering from surgery presents challenges that are unlike any other one I’ve faced in the past.

It takes something that has come naturally to you your entire life and suddenly makes it impossible. One day, I was doing butterfly, and the next, it was physically impossible for me to lift my arm above my head. It’s a problem unlike any other, and it forces you to put things into perspective. As athletes, we are so used to our bodies doing exactly what we want and need them to, that we don’t think about what we can’t do until it’s staring us in the face.

Surgery makes you feel broken, incompetent, and weak. Learning how to work through it is part of the journey. There is a reason you are here now. You may not see it, but I promise that it’s there. You will be back, and you will be better than ever. Believe that.

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After any surgery the fastest way back into the pool…is to stop. Your body has a mechanism in place to heal, and if you trust the process you will do great. Those who try to rush the process, skip steps, push forward before it’s time, those athletes inevitably end up back in my office with a new injury, or back in the pool much much later (or the field, track, court, mat, etc). Very simply stated, our job as orthopaedic surgeons is to put the pieces back where they belong, but it is the patient’s job to let it heal. And that’s a tough job sometimes. When we say “Sling for 4-6 weeks” it’s really tough for an athlete to… Read more »

Bryana Cielo

Thank you so much! I think what you just explained is the hardest part. Sure, it hurts physically, but accepting that we have to stay out of the pool and that it’s going to be a long process is much harder (at least for me.) We have been training our entire lives to go as fast as we can and not stop. However, people like you are the ones that get us back to being healthy and even though we may not show it at times, we are incredibly thankful 🙂


Surgery is great if it’s gets the problem fixed the first time. I’ve undergone 2 hip surgeries to repair a torn labrum and still struggling. I’ve gone through 3 years of pt all while still trying to swim collegiately but as crazy as it sounds I’m still hopeful. I have one more year and am going to make the absolute most of what I have left. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this experience is as hard as it isn’t to stay away from the pool, lean on your friends and never give up on yourself!

About Bryana Cielo

Bryana Cielo

Bryana Cielo Shortly after Bryana Cielo’s birth, she developed her love of water at her family beach house–and hasn’t stopped since. At the conclusion of her swim lessons at age 7, it was recommended that she try out for the local summer swim team. After her first season, she won the …

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