Patrick McCloskey’s Story: Scars Are There To Motivate Us

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Photo Courtesy: Lana Nguyen

By Patrick McCloskey, Swimming World Contributor

It was the off-season of my freshman year at University of the Incarnate Word and was participating in the last “optional” workout before summer. Front squats were part of the workout that day. We were instructed to warm up with body weight squats, then put our weight on the bar. I did as I was told, even though I knew it would miserably difficult for me.

I did the first rep, no problem. My second rep, I went a quarter of the way down and heard a “POP” in my hip. I continued to go down thinking, “I pop all the time. No big deal.” I struggled my way back up, as to be expected, because I was awful at squats. Continuing, I bent my knees to go back down and nearly collapsed.

Thank goodness my spotters were paying attention to take the weight off. I stood up, shook it off, got my mind right, and tried one more time with the same staggering result. I went to the swim coach and the weight coach to report what had just happened. I was instructed to “walk it off.”

I then went to the trainer when we were finished with our weight session. It took me about twenty minutes to walk half a mile to see the trainer because of my hip. I could hardly put any weight on it. I eventually arrived at the training room. They thought I strained my hip flexor and I was told to be “a lazy adult” for six weeks. Much like any collegiate athlete, I was ecstatic that I was required to be a lazy adult for a wee bit after completing a rigorous freshman year.

I don’t lift a weight, run, or swim for six weeks of summer. Coach knew and he was alright with it, as long as I came back with the intent to hit it hard and make up for the time off. I would go about a week during those first few weeks of summer feeling pretty good, but then would do something to twist in an awkward way that aggravated it. I thought it was progress.

A Telling Jog

As soon as my six weeks was up, I decided to ease back into it with a jog around the track. I would run the straights and walk the curves, nothing too difficult for a collegiate athlete coming back from what I was led to believe was a minor injury.

The moment I tried to shift gears from walk to jog, I experienced the sharpest pain of my life in my left hip. I pulled up and fell forward onto my hands and looked like Derek Redmond from the 1994 Olympics (who tore his hamstring and his dad helped him finish the race). I knew I was done for the day. I limped back to my car and called my coach on the way home. Concerned, he instructed me to go to school to get evaluated. The trainer made an appointment for me with a university doctor.

I went in to see the doctor and told him my symptoms. Sharp pains when I would run or do anything quickly and the occasional awkward walk I would have. He laid me down on the evaluation table and maneuvered my leg in all sorts of directions. I cringed during some movements more than others.

He ultimately concluded that it could be a torn labrum in the hip or a strained hip flexor. I asked how serious this possible injury was and his reply was, “I don’t believe it is a torn labrum. It is so rare. I see five people a year with that kind of injury.”

I immediately stopped and did the math in my head, “OK, so if he works four days a week and sees 10 people a day, that’s 40 people a week and 40×52 is 2,080. And only five people a year have this injury??? I like those odds. That’s less than .3 percent.”

At this point, I was insanely optimistic my mysterious injury wasn’t a torn labrum.

The doctor explained I would have to get an “ink contrasting fluid” shot in my hip before I get a MRI taken. The appointment is made and the needle is from Pulp Fiction from when that girl needs a shot of adrenaline into her chest. It was the epitome of what comes to mind when someone says, “Oh, the needle is huge.”

Once the shot was done, I had to go back to the doctor so he could read my MRI. He informed me I had a torn labrum and I immediately put my head in my hands. I was afraid my swimming career was over. How quick can recovery really be for a torn labrum when he only sees FIVE PEOPLE A YEAR with this injury? He showed me where the ink “leaked” out my labrum in my hip. Then explained how he believed rehab three times a week would fix it. Elated, I asked, “When can can I start?!”

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Photo Courtesy: Stephanie Jablon

Optimistically Rehabbing

The start of my sophomore year, I was practicing by myself while my teammates were doing dryland. When they came in afterward to swim, I would hop out and go to rehab five miles off campus. This went on my entire sophomore year; three times a week for an hour and a half.

I was not allowed to kick so I pulled the whole season. Whenever I ditched the pull buoy, even the slightest kick to balance myself out or a fast flip turn, there was that sharp pain again. It was the hardest season of my swimming career to-date. I didn’t have interaction with my teammates when they were struggling through the hard sets. I wasn’t there during the brutal dryland in the heat. Nobody understood exactly what was wrong with me and the better question people couldn’t understand is why I wasn’t showing any signs of progress.

Coach was understanding the entire year and decided to select me to the conference team as an exhibition swimmer (meaning I could swim prelims for time, but regardless, couldn’t participate in finals). This was my second meet of competition the entire season. My other meet was the midseason shave and taper.

Since I was injured (and just completed “No Shave November”), I did my best to have fun with the meet and shaved half of my beard. I was blown away that coach wanted to bring me to Conference. I went from riding the struggle bus all season to being on cloud nine because coach thought I was deserving of a spot on the Conference team, when I hadn’t been training with them at all and had been hurt for the entirety of the season.

The drive up to Colorado was long but I enjoyed interacting with teammates. Once the meet came, the feeling of personal satisfaction was quickly gone. I was nowhere near personal bests. It was the most discouraging experience of my life. I had never swam that slow shaved and tapered. I thought rehab had been working and I would have been somewhat close to my swim times. That was not the case.

Super Bowl Champ Surgeon

Spring break came and I was able to schedule surgery in Houston because nobody in San Antonio was qualified to do it (as a general idea of how rare my injury was). My surgeon was Dr. Mark Adickes. I did my research on my doctor who would be cutting me open.

Turns out, he’s kind of awesome. He attended Baylor University as a football player and was named All-American. Blown away by that, I kept reading. Adickes then played in the NFL for the Washington Redskins and won a Super Bowl.

“Surely, there is no way I have the right guy….” I kept on reading. He retired from the NFL and went to Harvard Medical School. Then I read he was the team doctor for the Houston Rockets, the United States Ski Team, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and for the University of St. Thomas. Being an athlete and knowing this guy was an athlete, I knew he needed to be the one to do my surgery.

The surgery took four hours (from what I was told), when it was only supposed to be about two hours. It was an arthroscopic surgery so I only have two small scars on the front of my hip and on the side. Adickes showed me how one incision was for the camera and one was for him to do the work.

The photos he took inside of my hip looked like raw meat. He explained how it was the worst tear he has ever seen in an athlete my age (20 at the time). He explained how he shaved bone off of my hip to make sure I would not re-tear it. He was just like an athlete who smashed their personal best time, as he celebrated the success of my surgery.

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Photo Courtesy: Patrick McCloskey

Isolated By Injury

But during this whole process of being injured, I had no clue who I could turn to. Nobody could actually relate to what I was going through even though plenty of people tried to. Teammates with shoulder injuries or soccer players with torn ACLs, but nobody knew what I was experiencing. I felt very alone even though I was surrounded by people on deck, in the classroom, and even in rehab.

I prayed. I talked with friends. I talked with family, but none of that helped with how I felt about my injury. Ultimately, I allowed myself to have bad days.

As a coach, I explain to my kids: Everyone is entitled to their bad day, just ensure it doesn’t happen too often. If it does, something needs to change. Nobody has perfect days all the time, some people are just better at hiding it. Let me know if you’re having a ‘bad’ day and we’ll figure something out.

Most kids take it to heart and understand where I’m coming from and as a coach. I’ve only had one swimmer during my coaching career approach me with a “bad” day.

Simply put, there are going to be hard days and that’s okay. Not everything is going to be perfect. I allowed myself to grieve and time to understand my unique situation.

There are still days that I hurt, physically and emotionally. My doctor told me I would never be able to squat down.

I would never be able to squat down with my swimmers or my kids or any child for that matter. That’s not supposed to happen until I’m old, gray, and wrinkly. I would no longer be able to squat down and wait for a little 7-year-old to hug me after they won their race or smashed their personal best. I was devastated.

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Photo Courtesy: Adriana Felts

Scarred For Good

Scars are there to remind us He has healed us. Scars are there to remind us where we’ve been and what we’ve been through. Scars are there to remind us we’ve overcome. Scars are there to remind us of the people who told us, “you can’t” or “you’ll never be what you once were.” Scars are there to motivate us. Scars are there to remind us, we are healed.

This all started April of 2010. Surgery was April of 2011. My junior year, 2012, was a lame duck year as I figured out what I could do with my new and improved hip. My senior year, I earned the DII NCAA “B” cut in the 200 Free and earned Academic All-American.

I can now squat down with my kids (swimmers) and interact with them on a daily basis. Of course, some days are great where I forget I even had surgery, and other days I have to cater to my hip and even change my walk. Ultimately, I remained optimistic but allowed myself to soak in everything a day at a time and knew, it will get better.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” -John Wooden

14 comments

  1. avatar
    Laura Talley

    Patrick, you have been such a great coach and “big brother” to Michael. I am so proud of all of you! Deerfield Dragons and Churchill Chargers for life! Love the coaching picture of all of you! Thanks fo everything!

  2. Patrick McCloskey

    Would love to know what people think! Please share!

    • avatar
      Kathy Hartman

      Coach Patrick, you are an inspiration!! You helped my Asher so much! Thank you for all you do!!

  3. Sierra Stewart

    Janet Wolff- Stewart coach Patrick!!!!

  4. avatar
    Josh Davis

    Thanks for sharing!!

  5. avatar
    Daniel France

    Man this is so surreal. I wish I had this to read about a year and a half ago! I had a kid with this exact same injury that kept getting misdiagnosed. It took almost a year to get the diagnosis that was correct. Your story is step by step what we went through. So frustrating and no one had any idea. Not lack of effort just so rare like you said in your article. Glad to here that their is a light at the end of the tunnel and I just forwarded this on to my swimmer. Good luck with coaching. The other crazy part is I coach at adams state university and we were in your conference before you guys transitioned to D1. Two swimmers in the tiny RMAC with the same rare injury? Crazy.

  6. avatar
    Crista

    Patrick, your story is such an encouragement to anyone struggling to overcome an injury. Thank you so much for sharing and for reaching out to Aubs to help her deal with her injury and recovery. You are an awesome coach and mentor in the pool and out! We ALL could learn a thing or two from you!

  7. avatar
    Kristin Schmidt

    Fantastic article, Patrick. You truly have a gift in your ability to connect with and inspire others!

  8. avatar
    Paw Paw

    Wonderful article Patrick. I hope you will always know how very proud of you I am. I just keep “popping my buttons”

  9. avatar
    Margie Fletcher

    So proud of you, Patrick. You are such a wonderful inspiration to so many young people.
    Keep up the good work.
    Hugs and Blessings…
    Ms Margie

  10. avatar
    Flora Jean Lloyd

    Patrick, I’ve known for a number of years now what an exceptional young man you are, therefore reading this story, the adversity you faced and the determination you displayed to overcome this injury simply speaks to your strength in rising above this devastating injury. And God placed the very best surgeon in that O.R. with you. Your story was so well written and will be inspirational to any young athletes who have experienced an injury. Patrick I know how you love and enjoy your young swim team and the successes they have had under your leadership. Their adoration of their coach speaks volumes. You have so much to offer. I am in awe of the person you are.

  11. avatar
    Flora Jean Lloyd

    Patrick, I’ve known for a number of years now what an exceptional young man you are, therefore reading this story, the adversity you faced and the determination you displayed to overcome this injury simply speaks to your strength in rising above this devastating injury. And God placed the very best surgeon in that O.R. with you. Your story was so well written and will be inspirational to any young athletes who have experienced an injury. Patrick I know how you love and enjoy your young swim team and the successes they have had under your leadership. Their adoration of their coach speaks volumes. You have so much to offer. I am in awe of the person you are.