A Back Injury Led to A Fulfilling Cause: Strong Women, Strong Girls

By Lauren Williams, Swimming World Intern

When an injury occurs, there is a moment when every thing is quiet. Then the panic sets in and a million questions rush through our minds: Will I be able to keep swimming? How long will I have to sit out? Can I pull? Can I kick? What do I do now?

For Amanda Wachenfeld, helping girls to gain confidence in themselves was the remedy for a season-ending back injury.

“We were never able to completely diagnose what is wrong with my back,”  she said. “I was in a lot of pain and whatever inflammation that was occurring in my lower back [would] cause weakness and numbness in my legs and feet.”

Wachenfeld began working with Strong Women, Strong Girls after the pain in her lower back forced her to sit out her sophomore season.

SWSG is a mentorship program with chapters along the East Coast from Boston to Pittsburgh. The group aims to foster relationships between college women and preteen girls in local schools and areas to help raise self-confidence and ambition.

To accomplish that, the organization formulated its Countdown to Success Skill curriculum, where mentors meet with 10 to 12 girls. Each lesson includes catching up on everyone’s days, a review of the previous week’s lesson, learning about a contemporary or historical woman, practicing the skills they learned that week and then journaling about it all.

“I felt like I wasn’t doing anything with my time,” Wachenfeld, who is also one of the Tufts team captains, said. “Nothing felt rewarding. I was just doing schoolwork and hanging out with my friends. I didn’t have swimming to get me up or anything.”

After receiving an email from SWSG inviting her to join their team at the Paul Revere site, Wachenfeld seized the opportunity and has not looked back. The civil engineering major jumped at the chance because she loves working with children.

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Before enrolling at Tufts, Wachenfeld built almost six years worth of experience working with children. She worked with a nonprofit for autistic children, taught swim lessons and coached a swim team.

“I’ve always found it really rewarding to try and make a difference in young people’s lives and give them a different perspective on life,” she said.  “So I signed up and started the spring semester of my sophomore year.”

Wachenfeld loved the experience and was touched by the girls she worked with. When her junior year began, she made time to continue mentoring and still came away with a strong swim season.  She finished in the top 10 at the New England Small Colleges Athletic Conference in the 1,650 with a time of 17:33.52.

“It was great to see how they [the girls] grew from the beginning of the program, where no one really felt comfortable talking to each other  to [where] we wouldn’t have a pause in the conversation,” the distance swimmer said.

During the fall semester, Wachenfeld needed to step away from SWSG because of her hectic schedule. While gone, her fellow mentors and mentees missed the energy she brought.

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“When Amanda couldn’t be with us last semester because of class conflicts, I could really feel the weight of the difference without her. Having her strong presence really changed the dynamic of the classroom,” said fellow SWSG mentor Nora Fleming. “The girls respected and looked up to her. They adored her and they really listened to her like no other person.”

Wachenfeld’s ability to command respect is also prominent on the pool deck. Voted to be one of the captains by her teammates, she not only helps to score points, she is also a person that her teammates turn to.

“She’s not one of those loud, in-your-face type people,” said Tufts Swimming and Diving head coach Nancy Bigelow. “She definitely has your back- she’s very encouraging. I can be 25 yards away and see her talking to somebody and all a sudden that person starts smiling.”

With only one week remaining before the conference championships, Wachenfeld wants to make the most out of her experiences in every aspect of her life.  She acknowledges that it is going to be tough and she plans to take it one step at a time.

“Right now I’m most focused on my swimming,”  she said. “I’m not just looking for a great season for myself, but for my team. I really want to spend my last season with this team doing really well at our final meet. I think that’ll be a great way to finish my four years.”

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Author: Annie Grevers

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Annie (Chandler) Grevers is a staff writer for Swimming World. She swam for the University of Arizona, winning the 100 yard breaststroke at the NCAA DI Championships as a senior in 2010. She was also a member of six NCAA Championship relays during her college career as well as a member of Arizona’s NCAA Championship title in 2008. She represented the United States at the Pan Pacific Games in 2010 and at the Pan American Games in 2011, where she won the 100 breaststroke. She is married to Matt Grevers and resides in Tucson, Arizona.

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