Before I really started to take swimming seriously, around 9th grade, I had a brief foray with my middle school track and field team, competing in such events as the discus and the shot put.
Swimming since I was 6 years old, combined with my mother’s fabulous genetics, gave me some incredibly broad shoulders. I’m talking shoulders that the dainty girly girls would have tried to cover up because they were too manly.
But me? I loved my shoulders. Still do.
Because of this, I thought I was pretty strong, even though my muscles were built by swimming and meant for swimming. I couldn’t really use them for anything else. My husband lovingly refers to them today as my glam muscles.
Anyway, those big shoulders and fake muscles put me in line to be the top girl competitor in the shot put at all of the track meets my 7th grade year. But the silly thing about middle school team sports? The “coach” isn’t really a coach. And proper technique is probably somewhere around 30% when you’re being taught what you need to do to compete.
Sooo, this leads to the last meet of the year. I threw my last throw, won, and simultaneously created a giant tear in the labrum of my right shoulder.
If you’re not up to snuff on the word labrum, it refers to a piece of rubbery tissue attached to the rim of your shoulder socket. That means it is a big part of what keeps your shoulder joint in place.
Did this stop me from swimming even though it hurt a ton? Nah.
Back in those days kids didn’t stop training because of something silly like pain. We just kept going. And by that I mean I saw a doctor, don’t worry.
The doctor wanted to perform all types of surgeries that required all lengths of recovery times, and I just wasn’t going to go through with that.
He couldn’t guarantee I would regain all of my strength or mobility, so I decided to just leave it. I worked with a physical therapist and strength trainer and worked my way through it.
Nowadays I know how to swim pain free, but I still do those mobility exercises. And I have to focus on the catch of my stroke in order to keep from hurting myself. The tear is still there, but I never let it take me out of the water.
All of that being said, yes, there are plenty of injuries that require surgery, time off, or some combination of both.
I’m not saying suck it up and get back in the water no matter what kind of injury you have. What I’m saying is that there are plenty of injuries, even serious ones, that don’t have to take you out of your sport entirely.
Do your research, see a doctor, see a second doctor, and see what the right course of action is for you. Another great thing to do, probably the most important thing to do, is to see if focusing on proper technique can keep you in your sport while still catering to your injury.
Full disclosure? I didn’t do that part. Instead, I swam in pain for years and thought that’s just how it was going to be. I just now learned how to swim properly without using my shoulder joint to pull during freestyle.
Now not only do I have the tools to help me maintain strength in my shoulder out of the pool, but I know how to swim properly to avoid pain in the water.
So do your due diligence the next time you are injured. Make sure you are taking the best course of action for you.
Lissa Henderson, Tri Swim Coach