Titanium Athlete

author : Lkalinosky
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Could you do a tri with a titanium rod in your spine?

Before my 7th grade swim season began; I was scheduled for an annual sport physical. For our school, it was something any athlete had to have on record before competing in a school sport. After about 3 years of these physicals, they start to feel very easy and predictable. I knew they would begin with a height measurement, then weight, then some balance tests. Following the normal, expected tests, the doctor asked me to stand straight and then touch my toes. I was assuming this had to do with flexibility, a new test of some sort but instead they were looking for anything abnormal regarding the back. They noticed one of my shoulders was higher than the other when I bent over. This brought some other unexpected tests to follow. The doctor determined I had a back deformity and I should have a spine specialist get a better look. We quickly scheduled a follow up appointment.

Concluding the appointment with the spine specialist, I was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis – a spinal deformity occurring in adolescents and adults in which the spine is curved like an “S”. I was told surgery would be needed in the near future because of how severe my curves were. At this point I was terrified. Mind you, I was just getting my physical test so I could start competing during that year’s swim season. You would think since I was in a swim suit 24/7, someone would have noticed this sooner. Just a short time before this, I had recognized my talent for swimming. I thoroughly enjoyed waking up at 5am for the intense practices and even spending my entire weekend at swim meets.

I remember the day the doctor told me surgery was absolutely necessary. I was speechless when I started to understand what surgery would mean. They told me there would be titanium rods with screws in my back holding my spine in place. Leading up to this point, I had never broken a bone in my body so all of the unknowns started to rush into my brain. I needed to know that I was going to be able to swim again after my surgery. Unfortunately, my doctor couldn’t reassure me of that. What would I do if I could never swim again?

March 3, 2005 was my scheduled surgery date - just about 2 weeks prior to my 14th birthday. Normally, birthdays are not meant to be celebrated in a hospital but mine was clearly a bit different than normal. Surgery went as well as it could and after about 8 hours, I was back in my hospital room awaiting recovery. The pain was horrible. I was given a button to monitor my pain when I got into my recovery room. All I needed to do was press the button and a nurse would come help me with medicine. I don’t think that button left the palm of my hand for the next 72 hours. I was in the hospital recovering for about 2 weeks. In that time, I went through the process of re-learning all the things I took for granted prior to surgery. Rolling onto my side (with everyone’s help) was the first step. After that, I started sitting up in bed. A few days later, I was standing and eventually on the 10th day I started to walk again. I was recovering at a great pace and my doctor was extremely happy with my progress.

I think the first thing I asked my doctor after surgery was when I would be able to swim again. He recommended that I stay out of the pool for at least 2 months while I continue to recover. 2 months and 1 day had past and I couldn’t resist. I was back home and in the water. Even if it was just to float – it felt great.It took quite a while to get back to the level that I was training at before I went into surgery but I eventually got there. About a year after my surgery, I accomplished a goal of mine and I qualified for YMCA nationals in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. This was the first time I felt like my scoliosis wasn’t going to hold me back. Fast forward a few more years to when I received a call from my soon-to-be college coach, offering me a scholarship to compete at the Division I level for Eastern Michigan University. I was happy in the fact that I was just going to be able to continue swimming but to also receive a scholarship, I was ecstatic!

Throughout all four years, I received varsity recognition and All-American awards. During my collegiate swimming career, I finished top-three on more than 20 occasions - helping my team to an undefeated record senior year. I achieved two top 10 ranking in my specialty events for the University that are still current today.

I love pushing myself past my limits. After college; I knew I wanted to continue competing but I wanted something more than swimming. Last year, I participated in my first triathlon and I finished 1st in my age group and 6th female overall. I was immediately hooked. Triathlon was the next challenge I wanted to take on. This September, I will be racing for TeamEdith, competing in my first Ironman distance in Chattanooga, TN and I couldn't be more excited for this journey.  

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date: April 28, 2016

Lkalinosky