Pulled from the Wreckage, Haley Townsend’s Tenacious Comeback

Photo Courtesy: Haley Townsend

Emma Schoettmer, Swimming World College Intern

On the morning of November 9, 2010, in a suburban town outside of Indianapolis, Haley Townsend’s Toyota 4runner plowed into a pine tree on the way to 6 a.m. swim practice. The traumatic event could have happened to anyone.

Townsend, one of Center Grove Aquatic Club’s cherished swimmers, defeated the odds. The girl who survived such an ordeal will forever be my role model and one of my greatest friends.

The Accident

Townsend began her morning like any other, driving herself to morning practice. However, that morning something was off. She could feel it. She had a routine down to the minute each morning, a routine that included seeing her friends in another car. The other car was not there, and the absence of the car was the split-second distraction that led to the horrific crash.

Townsend recalls the specifics vividly:

“I turned my head and body to look into the entrance of my best friend’s neighborhood, hoping to see her car waiting for me. There was only an empty street. Before I could turn my attention back to the road, I felt the ‘bump, bump, bump’ of the off-road. Panic stricken I can recall my thought process during that moment. I went through the steps of what they taught us in driver’s education, how you ease your way onto the road and not cut too sharp. I proceeded to turn the wheel back to the road. I went to hit the brake, hoping that would slow me down and help get back on, but in my panic, I hit the wrong pedal. My foot came down on the gas, the wheels spinning out of control.”

“Then there was nothing, just black. I remember a scrunched feeling and the booming noise of the engine still running. It was hard to breathe. I pushed so hard against everything, but I couldn’t see a thing. I didn’t know what happened. I thought I was dreaming. I may have even yelled at myself to wake up. I instinctively put my hand against my pocket to make sure my phone was still there.”

Haley struggled in the dark, completely lost and disoriented. She pushed herself into the back seat, and soon realized she was crawling on the ceiling of the her over-turned, unstable car.

It was later determined that she was able to call 911 after awakening in the dark. She said she could smell blood everywhere.

“Haley, you’re excused from practice this morning,” our coach later said after she was pulled from the car. It was sarcastic, just like he always was, but he was so serious when he said it that she was able to laugh and smile.

The Recovery


Photo Courtesy: Haley Townsend

Haley was rushed to the hospital where it was determined that she had a broken nose, slightly collapsed lung from the seat belt and a lacerated hand. The fact that she was alive was a miracle in itself. She underwent surgery for her broken nose and her hand.

The doctors ordered her to rest and attend physical therapy where she struggled to regain movement in her hand. As the days passed by, Haley’s thoughts were still at the pool. She missed the water. The fact that she survived the initial crash was amazing; the fact that she wanted to get back in as soon as possible was seen as crazy.

The day she walked back on the pool deck, her team swarmed her. And with a determination rarely seen, she came back to training like nothing had happened at all.



Photo Courtesy: Haley Townsend

Haley came back that season in time to train and compete at the Indiana High School State Championships. She competed that season and then continued to swim through her senior year, being recruited by one of Division III’s top swim schools– Kenyon College.

In the years that followed her accident, Haley was able to get back on the road, overcome her fears of driving, and dominate in the pool for her college. She earned the prestigious NCAA Elite 89 award in 2014 for a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Haley is what a true student-athlete should strive to be. Not only does she push herself to be an excellent student or a stand-out athlete, but also, she perseveres beyond the point where others might choose to give up. What should have killed her that fateful day only made her stronger.