‘Tougher Mentally:’ Will Yang Blazing Comeback Trail One Year After Surgery for Spinal Tumor

Will Yang is a strong contender to make his first Olympic team next month as the second-fastest Australian in the 100-meter freestyle so far this season. But less than a year ago, the 25-year-old could barely walk because of a benign tumor impinging on a nerve in his spine.

Yang credits good fortune for his rapid recovery. Once medical scans revealed the source of his lower back pain last May, he found a surgeon who was able to book him for surgery the following week.

“It got that bad that I couldn’t really walk so I had to get the surgery done and I was so glad I did,’’ Yang told The Guardian earlier this week. “I got really lucky. After the scan, immediately I was calling every surgeon in New South Wales and then I quickly found one, at Westmead Private Hospital. His name is Doctor Jun Kim and he’s a fabulous surgeon.

“He was like, ‘Your case seems very urgent so, let’s move you to next week,'” he added. “The time between me finding this out to getting the surgery was less than 10 days so there wasn’t much time to process it in my head. But then everything went really well. It was a long recovery but things went very well.”

Yang didn’t resume full-time training until January due to a cartilage tear in November that sidelined him for another two months. But luckily the injury healed itself and he has gone on a tear in 2024 thanks to a renewed love for the sport working under coach Adam Kable at the NSW Institute of Sport.

“Sometimes I forget that Olympic year is this year,” said Yang, who won two medals on freestyle relays at the 2022 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. “My perspective just changed a lot after what I went through last year, I just want to be healthy and enjoy the sport. I don’t think too much about my times or my performance. Every day I just do the best I can and I’m just happy to be here.”

In March, Yang beat 2016 Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers in the 100 free with a winning time of 48.48. The following month, he blasted a personal-best 48.20 for 2nd place at the Australian Open Championships behind Chalmers (47.63). Yang dropped almost two tenths of a second off his previous-best 48.38 from the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

At the Sydney Open on Friday — his final tune-up before the Australian Olympic Trials take place from June 10-15 — Yang clocked an encouraging 48.42 in the 100 free. He’ll have plenty of competition next month such as Flynn Southam and Jack Cartwright, who both went under 48 seconds in the 100 free last year. However, Yang appears in good shape after beating Cartwright (48.80) and Southam (48.96) at the Australian Open Championships last month.

“It would mean a lot (to make the Olympic team),” Yang said. “That would just mean I didn’t let a surgery or any setbacks define who I am or my career. I think I’m tougher than that. I can come back from any setback. It made me tougher mentally. I just view it as a very positive experience. There’s no point feeling sorry for yourself.”

Yang was born in Australia but spent seven years of his childhood in Guangzhou, China, where he learned to swim. He preferred basketball to swimming in high school and says he didn’t start taking the sport seriously until he arrived at the University of Sydney as a 19-year-old. Now he’s on the verge of becoming a crucial part of Australia’s freestyle relays at the Paris Olympics this summer, even after a year marred by health issues.

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Troyy
1 month ago

A couple of swims I noticed at NSWCIS Secondary Championships that were on last week:

Hudson Hegarty 50FR 24.25 13 yo – #2 all time not far from Chalmers’ 24.00
Christopher Montana 50BR 29.97 14 yo – #2 all time not far off Stoupas’ 29.84

The results show age at the end of the year but I think I’ve got the ages right and the swim

There’s another school meet on at SOPAC right now where Sienna Toohey is competing .

Last edited 1 month ago by Troyy
SNygans01
Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

Thanks Troyy – great work.
Knew of Christopher from Age Nationals, but think I’d missed HH until now.
That time would have placed 4th (of non-Visitors) in the exceptional 14yo field at the Nationals last month.

Please pass-on the latest S. Toohey exploits, once available.
That would be the fire-affected meet?

Troyy
Reply to  SNygans01
1 month ago

Yes, the fire affected meet. The 100 breast finals should be on soon.

Troyy
Reply to  SNygans01
1 month ago

1:08.93 for Toohey in the 100 breast final.

Gheko
1 month ago

It’s going to be tough for that second individual spot!

Greg P
Reply to  Gheko
1 month ago

Cartwright, Flynn, Yang, Taylor

Maybe Giuliano and Temple too?

Gheko
Reply to  Greg P
1 month ago

Zac Incerti as well probably in the mix!

SNygans01
Reply to  Greg P
1 month ago

Excuse the pedantry, but you are thinking of Max Giuliani .
Not to be confused with the current US freestyler Chris Giuliano.

Possible they are both in the 4x1FS relay in Paris!

Hopefully Max’s Trials performance is at least as good as his break-out swims last year in the 100 and 200. I assume that what he has done in events since then has been the result of competing only during heavy work.

Emily Se-Bom Lee
Reply to  SNygans01
1 month ago

I want to see them both swim the same leg of the 4×100 final, solely for the confusion it would cause for commentators

Greg P
1 month ago

“he didn’t start taking the sport seriously until he arrived at the University of Sydney as a 19-year-old.”

Wow.

Nono
Reply to  Greg P
1 month ago

I was also surprised when I read this.

At 2019 Aussie Champs he produced these times
100 back – 53.59 (2nd to Mitch Larkin)
50 fly – 23.23 (1st)
50 back – 24.98 (1st)
50 free – 22.74 (9th in morning heats)

He was 20 in that meet which is around a year after seriously taking the sport. That is impressive.

Jay Ryan
1 month ago

Very uplifting. I’m guessing it was an Ependymoma.

Emojilo
1 month ago

Certified machine 🤝🤝

SHRKB8
1 month ago

Riley,

“Wang didn’t resume full-time training until January due to a cartilage tear in November that sidelined him for another two months”

*Yang didn’t resume full-time training*…….

😉

Chad
Reply to  SHRKB8
1 month ago

Took me way to long to spot the mistake 💀

Anyone else just read names in their head as an image and not the sound the word makes?

Verram
Reply to  Chad
1 month ago

You mean dyslexia ?

SHRKB8
Reply to  Chad
1 month ago

And now that it’s been corrected, I look like the fool.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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