By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
KAZAN, Russia, July 13. I have first-hand experience with a dramatic comeback after a setback.
After my first Olympics, I returned for my senior season at Texas A&M University, and the swimming world was my oyster. I had been voted captain, had added an Olympic final to my resume, and had my sights set on winning Texas A&M's first ever NCAA title in my home pool.
All it took was some shoulder pain, an MRI, and the diagnosis of a torn labrum for all of that to come crashing down. It was hard to recover from my redshirt season physically, but what was going on with my body was nothing compared to my mental anguish. There were days when I really, seriously, had one foot out the door (or on the deck, rather) because I was so frustrated with my slow progress and lingering pain.
Even long after I had returned to racing, my shoulder would give me grief: some was real pain, some was probably a manifestation of the fear that I would reinjure myself. I knew that if I had to have shoulder surgery again, it would end my swimming career.
So when I looked at today's results from World University Games, a few names jumped out at me: Stephanie Peacock, Anastasia Zueva, and Sarah Henry. Peacock was a major favorite for the Tar Heels heading into NCAAs this past season, but illness prevented her from competing the second half of her junior season. The 2012 NCAA Champion and NCAA record holder was forced to sit out what could have been a very special year for her, but has managed to bring the magic back with her win for Team USA in the mile at World University Games.
Olympic silver medalist Anastasia Zueva is no stranger to missing a swim season thanks to an injury. Winning the 50 backstroke at the 2011 World Championships was a comeback after missing the 2010 season because of a back injury. Last October, Zueva had surgery on her foot, and this kept her from qualifying for Russia's World Championship team. So to win the 100 backstroke tonight on home soil must feel that much sweeter, knowing that she had a major hurdle to overcome to get back to form.
Finally, Sarah Henry did not take an individual gold this evening, but was second in the 200 IM in a lifetime best of 2:12.69 and was also was part of the gold-medal winning 800 freestyle relay. Henry, a top recruit out of high school, arrived at Texas A&M with one ACL surgery under her belt.
After a successful freshman season, she re-tore her ACL, forcing her to redshirt her sophomore year and undergo surgery all over again. As I said, I can't imagine having shoulder surgery twice: it would have caused me to completely unravel. So to see Henry working her way back up the ranks, all over again, is inspiring. As long as she can stay healthy, and I would like to think she's had her share of bad luck, she will be one to watch both in the NCAA and the international pool decks over the next few years.
Kudos to these ladies, the queens of the comeback, for bouncing back from illnesses and injuries!
Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M's first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.
Follow her on twitter @juliah2o