ANNAPOLIS, MD, October 16. SWIMINFO recently received a release from the Sports Information staff at the U.S. Naval Academy.
We want to express our thanks and appreciation to Mr. Kischefsky for sharing this wonderful story about the recent experiences of Navy swim star Tori Throckmorton, recognizing her courage, care, hope and determination in facing serious health issues. If this is an example of the “heart” being cultivated in our next generation of military officers, our defense is in good hands.
In addition, we appreciate such a powerful expression of the values and benefits that can be gained from our sport by those dedicated enough to mine what is available in it. Thank you Justin and Tori.
By Justin Kischefsky
U.S. Naval Academy Assistant Sports Information Director
In the sport of swimming, where one hundredth or thousandth of a second can determine the difference between glory and failure, Tori Throckmorton emerged from the swimming pool after a June workout with the knowledge her times were probably among the slowest she had posted in months, if not years. But considering how far she had come since her last visit to the pool, the holder of four Navy records climbed out onto the pool deck that summer day with a big smile.
For Throckmorton, what began two months earlier as a typical Monday morning for any midshipman, quickly turned to anything but ordinary for the native of Ann Arbor, Mich.
"I woke up, walked down the hall to the rest room, came back to my room and started washing my face and began getting ready for school," said Throckmorton. "All of a sudden I felt kind of klutzy and uncoordinated and really weak. I dropped my soap, dropped my towel and almost fell over when I bent down to pick them up. I started to realize this was something I couldn't control or shake off.
"I made it to my chair and was about to ask my roommate for help when she ran from one side of the room to the other and out the door, leaving me alone. I wasn't sure what I was going to do."
Knowing she was soon due at formation, Throckmorton somehow managed to get dressed, French braid her hair and walk out the door. Leaving the room was just the beginning of her problems, though.
"While I was walking I realized it was only my right side that wasn't working," said Throckmorton. "I always carry my hat in my right hand and I kept dropping it. After I switched it to my left hand, I had to hold onto the wall to walk. When I was going up the stairs, I couldn't lift my leg and kept hitting my foot on the top of the steps."
After arriving at formation, she immediately told a friend she didn't feel well. Her friend turned, took a look at Tori and said she didn't look too well, either, so the two of them carefully made their way down to the medical area in Bancroft Hall.
As soon as they arrived, the attending physician took one look at Throckmorton and whisked her into an examining room. After a few questions he left and quickly returned with another doctor who had been knowledgeable with Throckmorton's medical history for several months.
Soon a neurologist arrived and the trio told Tori what was going on …
She was having a transient ischemic event, a precursor to a stroke.
In the months leading up to the events of that April morning, Throckmorton was diagnosed to have an intra-atrial aneurism, meaning the walls between the left and right side of the heart were too thin and, instead of being steady, were "flapping" back and forth. Additionally, it was determined Throckmorton had small holes located between the left and right side of her heart, a problem not uncommon for people with her initial condition.
Blood clots are a common occurrence in everybody, such as when sitting in one position for a long time. In healthy people, the blood clots enter the right side of your heart, break apart, flow through your lungs and out the left side of your heart and through your body. The presence of these small holes, however, causes blood clots to bypass the lungs and go straight to your brain and can lead to a stroke.
Less than five percent of the population has this condition and of that miniscule number, less than two percent ever have a problem with it.
In the early morning hours of April 19, 2004, the 20-year-old Throckmorton became part of that less than two percent.
She was quickly transported by ambulance to Bethesda Medical Center where, 90 minutes after the transient ischemic event began, it ended without developing into a stroke.
After a week's stay in the hospital, Throckmorton returned to Navy to take final exams. On May 24, she was back in the hospital undergoing open heart surgery.
The surgery was a success, but as part of her rehabilitation she wasn't allowed to go into the water for some time. For the self-proclaimed "water rat," the days took forever to go by.
"My mom took me to water classes from the time I was real young," reminisced Throckmorton. "I always tell people I do remember learning how to walk, but (because I was so young when I started) I don't remember learning how to swim."
Throckmorton swam on a club team for a number of years until she took up synchronized swimming at age 12. She would return to competitive swimming as a high school sophomore.
Once she arrived at the Naval Academy, Throckmorton never expected to be one of the top swimmers on the team.
"I can't say I had a whole lot of expectations when I came to Navy," she said. "A lot of girls from my high school and club teams went to big colleges on full scholarships, but they gained time and never really improved. I didn't know what to expect for myself."
She concluded her freshman year by winning the Patriot League title in the 100 butterfly with a time of 57.80 — the third-fastest time in Navy history — while reaching the league finals in two other events and swimming a leg on Navy's 200 freestyle relay team that set a school record in winning the league crown.
Throckmorton had an even better second season, again winning the league's 100 fly title and posting Navy records in the 50 free (23.52), 100 free (51.71), 100 fly (55.91) and 100 backstroke (57.63) and winning another relay crown. Last year as a junior, she won 26-of-32 races during Navy's dual-meet season, won Patriot League titles in the 100 fly and 100 back and helped Navy claim four league relay titles.
One of just three Mids to have totaled 10 or more Patriot League individual and relay titles in her career — Julia Mason, 15 (1996-99); Melissa Hawley, 14 (1999-2002) — a victory by Throckmorton in the 100 fly at this year's league meet would make her only the second women's swimmer in Patriot League history to win four league titles in the same event (Bucknell's Jennifer Myers, 200 backstroke, 1995-98).
She was in the middle of training for a qualifying time at the U.S. Olympic Trials last April.
"When I was told I couldn't swim for awhile, that was when I lost it," said Throckmorton. "I had been trying so hard to get to the Olympic Trials."
Finally, one month after her surgery, Throckmorton was allowed to return to the water.
"I'm sure there was some initial concern and stress about returning to the water, but she also was very anxious and excited to return to the pool," said former teammate and 2004 Navy team captain Natalie Schultz.
"She has been in the water all of her life and I am sure she missed it.
I know she was very relieved and felt a lot better when she climbed out of the pool for the first time."
"I was just interested in swimming back and forth for awhile," said Throckmorton of her initial return to the pool last June. "I still had the stitches in, so I couldn't stretch my arms real far. I had been out of the water for so long, probably the longest period of my life, so I just wanted to get back in the water. "
Today, four months after her return to the pool, Throckmorton is still somewhat limited in her workouts but continues to show progress with every practice.
"I can swim fast and am really strong right now," said Throckmorton. "I can do hard sets with a lot of rest. What I can't do, yet, are all of the sets where we have only a few seconds of rest."
Despite all she has been through, Throckmorton still has set lofty goals for herself.
"I am going to make it to the NCAA Championship this year," she said.
"This is the best I have ever felt, as far as my stroke goes. One of the reasons why I was so excited about getting back in the water was because my heart is no longer working at 75-percent of everyone else's.
My heart is now receiving 100-percent oxygen. It's a big difference."
With the determination she demonstrated in the past and now with a heart working equally to her competitors, those around Tori have no doubt she will achieve her future ambitions.
"As a senior, I know she wants to go out with a bang and she is going to do everything she can to push past this setback," said Schultz. "Her mindset is that of a very determined person. Once she returns to a full training schedule she will do some amazing things."
"Tori was out of the hospital after surgery in record time and exercising way ahead of schedule," said Navy assistant coach Chris Villa, the first person Throckmorton called while in the ambulance.
"She is an extraordinary person who never let this slow her down or deter her from her goals. She hasn't really changed. She is still highly motivated and confident in herself, but modest. If anything she is hungrier to succeed.
"I think people will realize how special she is when this season is over and people see her level of success."