By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Photos courtesy Liz Dittmer
Sarah Henry loves ultimate Frisbee.
At least she did before tearing the ACL in her right knee for a second time while playing during the spring of 2011.
She had endured the same injury while in high school and had it repaired – never thinking it could happen the same way a second time.
Fortunately for Henry, the injury occurred more than a year out from 2012 Olympic Trials and she was able to rehab adequately and compete in Omaha despite limited training and competition.
And even though she didn’t make the Olympic Team – she didn’t expect to – the experience proved more than auspicious a month later when she qualified in three events for next summer’s World University Games with a stellar performance at the U.S. Open in Indianapolis.
“I did so much work rehabbing the past year or so that it was really gratifying to do so well at the U.S. Open,” said Henry, a junior (with sophomore athletic eligibility after missing the 2011-12 season due to her injury) at Texas A&M University.
“If I had done the same time (at Trials) that I went in the 200 freestyle at the U.S. Open, I would have come very close to making the Olympic team, but I think things unfolded the way they were supposed to.”
Now almost two years removed from her injury, Henry said she feels stronger than ever. While inopportune at the time, the ACL tear revealed that her previous surgery left her knee in a compromised, weakened position and the injury could have happened at any time.
“My ACL was disintegrating as a result of the first tear, and I could have reinjured it doing pretty much anything, so I can’t really blame ultimate Frisbee too much,” Henry said. “The timing actually worked out better than if it had happened during the NCAA season or right before Trials because I was able to redshirt and rehab.”
With the ACL pretty much gone, doctors did a reconstruction of her ACL using her patella tendon, which, while stronger, has left her with chronic tendonitis in her right knee. It’s also limited her range of motion, which she said she notices mostly in her breaststroke, affecting her individual medley events.
It’s also impacted her dryland training, as she isn’t allowed to run or jump and is limited in her weight training.
“I used to train all day, all the time (outside of the pool), but now I’m only able to do it a couple of times a week,” said Henry, who was born in Ontario, Canada, and holds dual citizenship. “I’ve found other ways to keep in shape and keep my knee strong.”
“Most people only have to go through this kind of injury once. The first time, I had to learn to love swimming again, but this second time, I knew how important the sport was to me and always wanted to make sure I came back stronger than before.”
Although she didn’t make the Olympic team, she did earn a shot in the finals of the 400 IM (finishing seventh) and also made the semis in the 200 free at Trials. While not a disappointment, she said watching Texas A&M teammates Cammile Adams and Breeja Larson make the Olympic team motivated her to aspire for even more.
“I was ecstatic to see them make the team because they both worked so hard to get there,” said Henry, originally from Garner, N.C., just outside of Raleigh. “I lived with Cammile my freshman year, and it was always her goal to make the 2012 Olympic team, and seeing her do it and then Breeja do it, I’ve allowed myself to say it out loud that I would like to be a part of that in 2016.”
She took a step toward that goal in Indianapolis a few weeks after Trials when she won the 200 IM and finished second in the 400 IM – qualifying to compete in both at WUGs next summer in Russia – at the U.S. Open. She also finished third in the 200 free and qualified for the 800 freestyle relay team.
She credits her continued work with A&M Coach Steve Bultman and assistant coach Tanica Jamison – who she said have differing but complementary styles – with her continued improvement in the water.
“Steve develops swimmers at every single level and is very positive in his feedback and invested in all of our dreams,” Henry said. “He doesn’t set limits and allows us to do what we need to do to achieve them. Tanica is a great balance to Steve because she’s more of a ‘kick-in-the-butt’ kind of coach, but she also has our best interests in mind with her approach. Plus, she a lot fun.”
Henry has decided to bypass competing at next summer’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships ,where the 2013 World Championship team will be selected, so she can focus on being at her best for WUGs.
She said it’s a tough decision to not compete for a spot on the World Championship team, but the physics major who wants to pursue a career in astrophysics and possibly teach in the future, is confident it’s a positive step for her in her swimming regardless.
“The U.S. Open was a great meet for me because it showed me that I can compete with anyone, especially now that my knee is 100 percent,” said Henry, who identifies with “The Big Bang Theory,” although she denies being anything like Sheldon Cooper.
“That meet really taught me how to relax during my swims and not put extra pressure on myself, which will definitely help me at World University Games. I’m looking forward to competing internationally and using it as another learning experience for the future.”