- Human Interest
Swim Kentucky Masters member J-D Schall shares his story of what swimming means to him
If you had asked me five months ago, “Are you going to swim at Spring Nationals?” I would’ve laughed. I didn't consider myself a poor swimmer, but the qualifying times were out of my league and I had no interest in proving to myself and others how mediocre I was.
But that was before I found myself flying back early from a vacation in Nicaragua with a shattered wrist that needed emergency surgery.
For those of you in the medical world, I had a Colles' fracture. Both of my wrist bones in my left arm were broken, one with about 40 or 50 breaks in it. The doctor put metal plates in my arm to secure the bones, and I was unable to swim, run, or bike (there’s a bit of triathlete in me). I was also unable to work in clay as a potter, which is my living.
It was then that I found out how supportive my coach and team are. As soon as I was able to leave the house, my coach—not wanting me to get out of the habit of 5:45 a.m. practices—insisted I come in and use a stationary bike he set up next to the pool. There I would mimic the swim workouts, pedaling at 85 percent effort for 1:30 with 10 seconds rest, repeat five times, while everyone else was doing 5 x 100s in the water.
Thus, I found myself spending days at home doing hand drills, teaching my fingers to move again and looking forward to the predawn hours, when I’d drive one-handed to the pool. Once there, my teammates never failed to give me encouragement and lift my spirits. And my coach would strategize on how we would keep my brace dry once I was allowed back into the water. Meanwhile, I’d pedal away on the spin bike trying to hold onto a bit of fitness.
On Valentine’s Day, about two months after the incident, I entered the water but was still not allowed to use my arm. Nevertheless, I was thrilled. There I found kick sets and kicking drills waiting for me. I have never done so much vertical kicking in my life. I even began to fix a kink in my breaststroke kick.
Finally, after more than three months off, I was cleared to start using my wrist and actually swim. As exciting as it was to begin to move my arms through the water, I was scared. The nerves in my hand then and still are hyperaware, and I’m worried about any sort of trauma, like bumping into a lane line or touching the wall too hard. Yet, attempting to hold on to the water is building muscles back in my wrist, hand, and arm, which is the physical recovery I need. Not just for swimming, but also for my work.
During this slow recovery process, I came to realize how important swimming was to me and that I should embrace my abilities no matter what the circumstances. So now, even though I still haven’t swum any of the qualifying times and my hand is only at 45 percent strength and has 60 percent of its former mobility, if you ask me, "Are you going to swim at Spring Nationals?" with a big smile, I’ll respond, "Yes, because I can. I can swim."
I'm enlivened to be in the pool again, and thankful for my coach’s and my swim group’s support and encouragement. I’m training hard for nationals, and there might even be a personal best. I've swum every event between the 50 freestyle and the 400 individual medley, except the 200 breaststroke. So, at Nationals I'm planning on completing the circuit and, providing there isn't a DQ, getting a best time—even if it is my only time.