I know that teachers have the power to change lives, but as my girl gets to the middle school years, I am really starting to think the power is with the coaches.
I have always wanted my daughter to be an athlete, and truth be told, THAT didn’t take much convincing. She is a natural competitor. She loves the thrill of racing. competing, and performing. She has done some time in soccer, with some fantastic coaches, who worked to nurture her. She loved her time dancing. But, her body, much to her chagrin, was not made for pounding. The knees, and hips, and major joints couldn’t handle the impact.
So we headed to the pool. Her first experience with any competitive swimming came at the age of 9, on a CYO team we were connected to through a friend. Soon after that season she tried out, and was accepted to join a 12 month team. She began with them in July of 2013. And, while the desire to compete was always strong in her, it seemed there was constantly something standing in her way.
We started the year with the goal of making 2-3 practices a week. But, in the fall things took some wild turns, and there were migraines, and neurologist visits, viruses, and fatigue, and strep, and one obstacle after another. There were weeks one practice seemed like a feat. Meghan had a hard time finding her place, because she wasn’t there much. And the cycle continued. During the fall my father became ill and passed away quite suddenly in December. That set her into a bit of a tailspin. Then in the end of December a routine thyroid appointment told us there was much to be concerned about, and that she’d need her thyroid removed.
Ironically this is about the time she started to enjoy going to practice. The coaches were intelligent, and compassionate. The kids were all finding their way.
Meghan responded so well to the two young women who coached her most often. They understood her medical trials, but treated her no differently. They pushed her just enough, but never too hard. They listened when things hurt, and gave her ways to work through it.
She mustered the courage, and stayed healthy enough to make it to her first big meet in January. She was awed by the whole experience, and truth be told, I don’t even remember what she swam. Like so many firsts, it was about getting it done.
Thyroid surgery in February sidelined her for a few weeks. And, long after her body had healed physically, her thyroid hormone levels never seemed to take to the synthetic replacements. An emergency room trip in February – 10 days post op, led to an overnight stay and the elimination of the synthetic calcium from her diet completely.
But, by the beginning of March she headed back to practice. Her coaches welcomed her, encouraged her, and built her up. She started making regular practices, and swimming CYO at the same time.
Then, in May her body quit again. Severe gastritis landed her in the local hospital for 6 days. She missed her last CYO meet. She underwent extensive testing, and the blame for the erosions in the esophagus, and the inflamed, bleeding ulcerations in her stomach lay with the Celebrex – the very medication that was allowing her to function through the chronic pain that plagues her.
The elimination of Celebrex, and the discoveries of the damage it had caused in her GI tract, led to changes. Her already Gluten, Dairy, Soy free diet, became also free of beef, spices, chocolate, and the other tastes that had carried her through. Then there was the pain. The constant awareness of pain in all her major joints was playing mind games with her. The pain – very real – could be fed nothing to control it. Oral pain meds were, and still are off limits.
Weak from her stay in the hospital, it took another week home before she could even consider a return to practice. And when she did, she was angry. She was angry at her body for the pain, and angry that she couldn’t keep her old pace. She was just angry.
But the coaches, they were supportive. They let her take the lead. They let her take her time. She rested when she needed to. She left early when she had to. And finally, just about 3 weeks ago she started making full practices again.
The pain is a daily battle. One she is fighting with mental power to overcome, and the best nutrition we can offer to her.
Last week she made 4 days of swim camp with the varsity swimming head coach at the local college. 6 hours a day. She slept well. She was sore. But she was determined.
So, when we set off for the meet upstate yesterday, my expectations were low. I was hoping she would finish without disqualifying. 100m of butterfly is not for the faint of heart, especially in a 50 meter pool. But she did it. And closed in with a time .67 seconds away from qualifying her for Junior Olympics. Junior Olympics, the best of the best swimmers in her age group. An honor just to make it in the door.
We went back today to give it one more try, but it wasn’t meant to be. This year.
Close doesn’t cut it. This I know. Except when you consider that she got THIS close, despite all odds, it’s something to consider. Meghan’s synthetic thyroid replacement is not working. It’s just not. At our last appointment we found out her TSH level – the Thyroid Stimulating hormone has increased by over 300% in 6 weeks. Post operatively it remained about a 10, it took a brief dip to 6, and then over a 6 week span increased to 20.5. ABNORMALLY HIGH is what it says on the lab report. That, combined with her low levels of T4 means that the work of the thyroid, that can not be done by the gland that was removed, is not being done by the medication, which has just short of doubled since February. The endocrinologist is baffled. I’m concerned, but not shocked. He agreed to research alternative medication, but he has, “never had to prescribe one before.” For those of you not thyroid patients, you are considered hypothyroid, once the TSH goes above 5. Most people feel human between 1 and 3. I function best when mine is .5. At 20.5 you would likely not find me out of my bed. You would certainly not find me at swim practice.
“Mind over matter,” we say.
“Everyone has something,” we say.
“Show the world you are better than Cowden’s Syndrome,” we say.
And she does. All the time.
On the way home we talked a lot. We talked about obstacles, and overcoming. She started to set goals.
And then, there was this text from her coaches.
“”Hi Mrs. Ortega. (We) just wanted to send you guys a text and let you know how proud we are of Meghan. She is such a pleasure to coach and is always looking for ways to improve and be her best. Swimming isn’t only about the times, it’s about the people and having the opportunity to create and share memories, good and bad. Meghan has so much drive, and goes through more than we can even imagine. She is truly amazing to go through everything she does and still push her body in the water. Today was just the first time. We know there will be plenty more opportunities for her to make cut times, and we know she will. She has limitless potential and we want her to know that. She is truly an amazing person, and we are lucky to be able to coach her.”
And in that moment, everything was OK. Coaches have this incredible power. They can motivate and heal and push in the same breath. They are gifted with selflessness like no other. My heart is grateful for these women who will continue to shape my daughter’s future. May they always know the impact they are having on a life full of bumps, twists, and turns.