SWIMMING AS A MEANS TO HEAL
At 11 years old I found myself in an orthopedic surgeon’s office looking at x-rays of my spine. I had experienced severe lower back and neck pain for a full year and it became almost impossible to continue gymnastics and track. The surgeon’s “good news” was that I was a few degrees off needing spinal surgery in which a stainless steel rod is implanted along the spinal column. The bad news was that I would have to stop all sports, including gym class, and wear a constricting “Milwaukee brace” 23 hours a day for three years. This would stabilize my spine and its three massive curves but not improve it. There was no way to fix scoliosis, I was told, certainly not by myself.
As a young athlete, I felt like losing the ability to participate in sports was a death sentence. After discussing options with my parents, who were determined to find another way to heal outside of traditional medicine, we decided against the brace and I began treatments with a chiropractor three times a week. Because I was young enough, my bones weren’t fully ossified and we could decrease the curvatures in my spine significantly and relieve the physical pain. He told me I could be the athlete that I dreamed of becoming but was required to stay away from high-impact activities. He encouraged me to consider swimming to strengthen the muscles around my spine without stress, encouraging my body to straighten, untwist, and heal naturally.
I joined a swim team and after winning my first swim race, I had found my dream sport and prescription. In four years, I would become one of the best swimmers in the state and in six years I would be part of the two-time Big Ten Championship Swim Team at the University of Minnesota with no back pain and a miraculously improved spine (curvature reduction in double digits). My recovery story was featured on the front page of the local paper and on TV and my experience sparked a lifelong passion for learning about and sharing with others the healing potential of water.
Whenever I put my head under the water and pushed off the pool wall, I knew I was in a place where I could think about everything and nothing at all. The swimming pool became a sanctuary of peace for me and my favorite place to be. It was an environment where I could experience both pain and pleasure, focus and freedom. I could be as tall as I wanted. I could be as light as the water allowed me to be. I could let go and be confronted, challenged, pushed, supported and loved.
Stroke after stroke, I felt better about my crocked back. It’s as if the straight line in the pool was a reminder for my spine. With each movement and breath in the pool, my bones were called to untwist allowing me to lengthen and stand strong.
I felt like an athlete, like a champion of obstacles. I felt strong and powerful. I was in control of my recovery, not some x-ray, doctor or diagnosis. I felt completely in my body and one with myself.
THE ART OF SWIMMING
SPECIAL THANKS TO
My beloved parents, Greg and Judie Koller for saying no to surgery and the Milwaukee brace and yes to Chiropractic and my natural ability to heal my body.
My Godfather, Tom Leuthner, for treating my spine with care for over 2 decades and standing for my healing.
My Chiropractor, Dr. Robert Mawhiney at age 12 who worked with a young athlete to feel strong and empowered once again.
The Milwaukee Piranhas swim team and all my friends I swam with at a young age.
The water for healing me.