How Megan Moroney Returned from the Depths of Injury and Doubt

Photo Courtesy: Dan D'Addona

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Morning Splash by David Rieder.

At the center of Virginia’s resurgent ninth-place finish at the women’s NCAA championships this week was Megan Moroney, who finished seventh in the 200 free and 10th in the 200 back. She swam on two relays for the Cavaliers. In all, that’s what looks like a perfectly solid meet, with a best time of 1:51.58 in the 200 back and a time just off her best from last month’s ACC championships in the 200 free.

But Moroney’s road to Columbus had been anything but linear. Two years earlier, she had been a promising first-year who missed making the finals by one spot in both of her events at the 2016 NCAA championships before finishing 11th in the 200 free and 200 back consolation finals. Moroney swam at Olympic Trials that summer and finished as high as 20th in the 200 free.

When she departed Omaha in early July, nothing seemed amiss, but after she returned to Charlottesville for her second season, the pain began. It was her right shoulder, a torn labrum. She tried rehab, she tried to swim through it, but nothing was working.

By March, Moroney was not with the Cavaliers at either the ACC or NCAA championships, and there had been no improvement in her shoulder.

“Championship season last spring was really hard, just because I wanted to be there with my team, and I couldn’t, and there was nothing I could do about it,” Moroney said.

All along, surgery to repair the labrum had been Moroney’s last resort, and in the spring of 2017, she went under the knife. She would not take another stroke in the pool until July.


Injuries can derail or end careers in any sport, swimming or otherwise, and swimmers have such dependence on their shoulders that surgery is typically avoided at all costs. But Moroney had no other options after five months of pain, and that meant a lengthy and difficult road back. Understandably, she had her doubts.

“I feel like there’s always some type of doubt for anyone going through an injury that severe,” Moroney said. “Surgery is daunting for any athlete. It was scary and hard to see past what was right in front of me, which was, ‘I can’t swim.’ It was a little scary.”

When she first returned to the water four months after the procedure, Moroney swam 50 yards and stopped. When school began in late August, she had worked her way up to 500 yards. After a week of 500 yards per day with no setbacks and no pain, she bumped up the distance to 1000 yards. If that week went well, it was 1500 yards the next week. All of the swimming was easy.


Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

Oh, and at the same time, Virginia was breaking in a new coaching staff. Todd DeSorbo was named the Cavaliers’ new head coach in early August, replacing Augie Busch. Moroney had never met DeSorbo or any of the assistants he brought to Charlottesville.

“That was terrifying because they had no idea what the last year was like for me,” Moroney said. “I was a little nervous coming in with four totally new people that I never met before. They don’t know me, I don’t know them, and then this whole fiasco that just happened to me last year is now being dragged into making first impressions and building an initial relationship with a new coaching staff.”

Moroney sat down with DeSorbo and then with Wes Foltz, who would be her primary group coach. She gave each of them “a brief summary of the last 12 months for me” and “a brief summary of where I’d like to go from here.” They resolved to take it step by step, day by day.


Around Thanksgiving, Moroney was ready to make her return to competition. It had been 17 months since she put on a racing suit and got behind the blocks for a sanctioned race. She would swim at the Georgia Invite and only in events 100 yards or shorter. Looking back, Moroney doesn’t think she had had realistic expectations for what would unfold at that meet.

Her top times from that meet were 23.20 in the 50 free, 49.69 in the 100 free and 53.69 in the 100 back—fine after that long layoff and rehab but not what she had imagined for her return.

“That was kind of a shocking meet,” she said. “It obviously didn’t play out exactly how I wanted it to in my head, but I think that kind of sparked that inner competitive swimmer in me. I came back, and I was like, ‘There’s no excuses anymore. I’m going to come back and give it my all every day and see where that gets me at the season.’

“I was done looking at myself as, ‘I was injured, I had surgery x-months ago. That doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is what’s happening now, and I’m going to do everything I can now.’”

The Virginia coaches helped talk Moroney down on her goals, reminding her that if she didn’t perform at her best by the end of the season, that wouldn’t be the end of the world. They would work as hard as they could to get her as close as possible to her bests, and she would still have two more years at Virginia after that.

But a stretch of January dual meets gave Moroney a spark.

“I started swimming a lot better and I was feeling more like myself, feeling stronger,” she said. “I got some of my confidence back, and I knew that in the atmosphere of ACCs, the old me was going to resurrect.”


Photo Courtesy: Virginia Athletics

That’s exactly what happened. In the middle of February, Moroney swam at the ACC championships in Greensboro, and she finished second in the 200 free and third in both backstrokes. She got back to just off her best time in the 200 back, with a time of 1:52.60, and her 200 free time of 1:43.60 was a half-second faster than her best form from two years earlier.

Four weeks later at NCAAs, she nervously waited to see if she would qualify for her first NCAA final in her best event, the 200 free. After a pair of ninth-place prelims finishes in 2016, walking out with the championship heat was immensely satisfying.

“I was just trying to soak it up,” Moroney said. “It was really satisfying, and I was really happy to be there.”

Perhaps even more satisfying than if she had never gone through the gauntlet of a devastating injury. Finally, after more than a year of ups and downs, hopes and doubts, Megan Moroney is back.


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