Swimming With Scoliosis: Taking On a Challenge With a Positive Mindset


Swimming With Scoliosis: Taking On a Challenge With a Positive Mindset

Swimmers tend to approach problems with perseverance and a positive mindset. That is what sets swimmers apart from other athletes. Swimmers face many challenges throughout their training, from tough sets to sore muscles. Not every swimmer will face the same problems. Some face the challenge of scoliosis, which is best known as a curvature in the spine. It is a common condition with more than three million cases in the United States alone. 

I was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 12. The effects upon my training were minimal, with adjustments made to my dryland exercises and a need for more time to lower my respiratory rate. My coach understood these adjustments and continued to encourage me every day. The real life-altering diagnosis came when my orthopedic doctor informed me that I would need spinal fusion surgery.

It was a gut-wrenching feeling that left me feeling afraid of what my future held. All my training and hard work in the water felt like it meant nothing. I knew that I would not be entering the water for nearly four months after surgery. Upon sharing the news of my diagnosis and revealing the date of my operation, my coach and closest teammates rallied behind me. At every practice, I was overwhelmed with encouragement and positivity. My teammates and coach turned into my swim family and I felt as if the pool was my home away from home.

Upon my return to the water, my new motto was: Go with the flow. I slowly learned how to swim again, just as I once learned to walk again in the hospital. Simple tasks, such as breathing and maintaining my kick during freestyle, became challenging. This combination sent sharp pains down my spine. But my perseverance shined through as I continued to show up and pushed myself to go 50 more yards than I did at the previous practice.

Moments of doubt arose when I plunged into the cold water and felt my muscles contract around the new addition of two titanium rods and twelve titanium screws. My body became rigid, and routine muscle spasms made it difficult to get through simple sets. Instead of yelling at me for slacking off, my coach listened to me as I advocated for myself and encouraged me to come back tomorrow to try again. Not only was my coach one of my biggest supporters, so were my teammates and family.

Upon returning in October, I was able to attend my first meet in December. My teammates and parents stood by for every race and cheered me on until the end. My times were far from my personal bests, but I continued to believe in the process of working hard and persevering through my challenges.

Swimming with scoliosis served as a new experience for my coach as I needed to adapt sets to my abilities, such as choosing to pull versus straining my back with fins. Still, I felt behind on my progress until I realized that I was able to swim full practices of nearly 8,000 yards in less than six months. I never realized how far I truly had come until that moment when my coach expressed how proud he was. 

The most touching moment of my journey was realizing how I served as an inspiration to others. Another athlete had been a part of my journey from the beginning when they later received a own diagnosis that felt devastating to their swimming goals. I was later contacted by the family who asked for advice, and said I served as a source of inspiration for how you can return from life-changing events and become better than you were before. The moment tugged at my heartstrings as it felt my journey was not misunderstood but one that many face in different forms. 

Swimming with scoliosis has been anything but an easy experience. I was given many opportunities to grow within swimming and as an individual. I learned that swimming was not all about my performance in the water but how I grew life skills and demonstrated perseverance. Once my mindset changed toward a positive outlook, I began to surpass my previous goals that I set before my surgery. Facing a challenge should never make a swimmer lose hope in themselves but serve as an opportunity to grow from what you go through.

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David Vchi
11 months ago

my son was just diagnosed with Scoliosis and worried that an operation will keep him from a lot of movement ?fused screws and rods ?

11 months ago

Very inspiring.

10 months ago

I’m right there with you. I had a devastating injury that has led to a total of 10 surgeries since 2007. I was swimming lifetime bests in my late 30s and then this happened. I haven’t been able to swim in almost 10 years. You don’t know how much torque you put on your spine when you’re swimming until it’s all fused. It’s awesome that you’ve been able to keep swimming. I hope to join you one day. Swimmers don’t quit. Ever.

Jeff Wise
3 months ago

So very proud of you Jori!
You will do great things in your future. I miss you because you also inspired your coach. Please stay in touch.