Ashley Backus Made Big East Championships After Spinal Injury

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D'Addona

The college conference season saw a number of incredible performances and feats from conference titles to NCAA records.

There were plenty of other feats that went relatively unnoticed during the conference season.

For Ashley Backus, just being in the water at all was a huge feat.

The Butler University swimmer qualified for her first Big East Championships after a two-year comeback from broken vertebrae. She didn’t swim best times, but it didn’t matter. Backus finally was able to contribute to her team on a big stage.

“It was everything I hoped it would be. The energy was so high. I have never been to a meet where the energy was that high,” Backus told Swimming World. “I am really glad I finally got to experience that.”

Backus went a 2:15 in the 200 backstroke, a 1:03 in the 100 backstroke and a 2:06 in the 200 freestyle — far from her best times. But that was after having to turn back around from a strong taper that got her to the Big East Championships in the first place — a performance that left her and many of her teammates in tears.

“I actually started crying in the water. I was so overjoyed after everything I went through,” Backus said after a 2:14.14 in the 200 back. “It wasn’t so much about getting the big meet cut, but coming back after the injury and showing everybody that I am still here — and I am back.”

Backus had nearly missed two full seasons after her injury. She had multiple fractures in her vertebrae that had to be fused with 12 screws in her spine.

The injury happened in September of 2016 when Backus woke up in severe pain. The origin of the injury is still unknown, but the inspirational comeback is gradually becoming known to people outside her family and team.

“I woke up one morning in September of 2016 in pain,” she said. “It progressively got worse over two weeks. I got some X-rays and found out I had four fractures in my L4 and L5 vertebrae. I went a year and a half before we really knew that surgery was my only option to fix it. I had a double spinal fusion in December (2017).”

Backus began her comeback by swimming one length of the pool and built up from there. For several months, she could only practice for 10 minutes before the pain in her back was too much to handle.

“There were a lot of tough days,” she said.


Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

But for Backus, it was worth it to be able to continue the sport she loved.

“I am not done yet,” she said after the injury — and continues to say.

It is a stunning example of determination.

“Ashley is so resilient and has such a positive personality,” Michigan Lakeshore Aquatics coach Jim Whitehead told Swimming World. “Every week, she tests her own limits a little more. It’s refreshing to see a young person with such internal motivation and confidence.”

Very few people would endure a severe spinal injury and continue to compete.

That is what makes Backus so inspirational. Now that she has finally experienced a Big East Championships, she has reached a sense of fulfillment — but she still has one more year at Butler.

“Walking around with the Bulldog on, representing Butler, I really don’t have words to describe it,” she said. “Walking in the pool and just taking in the venue and atmosphere when we got there was amazing. I earned it and I tried to soak it all in. Knowing that I accomplished that was everything to me.”

Check out more Big East coverage here.

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1 comment

  1. brandi west

    Very inspirational! Congratulations Ashley on your comeback and the many long hard days of recovery.

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