Note: The story of Sarah Montplaisir is one worth taking the time to read. Behind the goggles and swim caps are people. In these words, Sarah shows resiliency, grit and the ability to look at a situation and carve out a positive role for herself. As adults, we have a tough time doing this. Sarah shows us regardless of the cards you are dealt you always have the option to make the most out of any situation. Sarah, thank you for sharing your inspiring story. Al McDonagh, Founder Lane 4 Athletic.
Swimming is truly one of the most under appreciated sports across the globe. To outsiders, it simply isn't entertaining to watch people swim back and forth countless times, there's no contact or fights to make it interesting like football and hockey, and it can become pretty predictable at times. There have only been a few great mentioned on popular channels such as Ledecky, Dressel, Lezak and of course, Phelps. But to someone who has been involved in this sport for as long as I can remember, it is so much more than that. Swimming is about finding who you are. It's about comradery. It's about perseverance. Swimming started out as something to keep me occupied so my parents wouldn't go crazy, but it has evolved into something much bigger: my home.
When I first started swimming in elementary school I was the nerdy, chubby, quiet kid that didn't really feel like I fit in anywhere and was really only friends with people because I was at a small school and had no other choice. Immediately after joining the team, I instantly felt accepted. The younger kids on the team became incredible friends of mine---ones that I still hang out with like 99% of the time---and the older kids became great mentors to me. There was such a sense of family at the pool that it became impossible not to fall in love with the sport.
My journey through swimming continued throughout middle school and high school. It was so crazy joining the high school team because you realize that you now have a greater responsibility. You're at the age where younger kids on the club team start to look up to you and go to you for guidance so you have to do everything you can to help them keep their passion for swimming and show them how fun it can be. At this point, I was so in love with swimming that it became the only thing I wanted to do.
My sophomore year of high school I set a lofty goal of getting to State on the varsity team for the first time. I worked harder than I had ever worked before, but unfortunately, I came up short in my goals. It didn't matter to me at the time, I knew I would just work harder next season and make that goal a reality. However, life doesn't always work out the way you plan. In December of my sophomore year, I was involved in a horrific accident on my way to school. It was the last day of class before Christmas break and my brother and I were so looking forward to a break from school. About 5 minutes into our drive we ended up hitting a patch of ice and slamming into the guard rail of a bridge. The car was instantly totaled---the driver's side caved in on itself, the steering wheel smashed into the passenger's side and the roof caved in on us. My brother seemed to have it worse than me, as he broke his ankle and pelvis. I came out of the accident with a few scratches and what we thought was just a sore back from the impact. Oh, how I wish that was the case.
A few months after the accident, I was still struggling to stand up straight and walk upright. A series of X-rays and MRI scans revealed that I had broken 5 lumbar vertebrae. The good news was that I would be able to go to physical therapy and get it fixed in a few months---the bad news was that I would be out of the pool that entire time. Once again, life doesn't work out the way you want it to sometimes. My injury ended up taking a full 13 months to heal, and I was out of the water that entire time. I had to miss my Junior year of swimming and rethink ways to keep involved in the sport.
Spending a season on the "sidelines" turned out to be one of the best seasons of my life. I was able to focus more on friendships, and what I really wanted to get out of the sport. I saw my best friends grow as athletes and people in a way I hadn't been able to before. I was able to there for my team in a way that meant more than swimming with them ever would. I was able to be their biggest cheerleader all season long. Standing on the pool deck and watching others grow really opened my eyes to how swimming can change a person.
My Senior year, I was FINALLY able to swim again. My goals became less about performance, and more about how I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel smooth in the water again. I wanted to feel like I accomplished something every time I got in the water, whether that be something as simple as doing a 25 without it hurting, or something as complex at the time as taking my first butterfly strokes in years. On top of that, I wanted to try and be the biggest supporter of the new kids on the team so that hopefully one day they would be able to appreciate the sport as much as I had. I had the greatest opportunity of being able to share my last, and most memorable, season with my sister and watch her qualify for State the first time. I just remember running to the end of her lane and trying to hold back the tears while telling her how proud I was of her. As the season came to an end, I tried to find the courage to say goodbye to the sport I loved so much.
(Sarah and Anna Montplaisir leaving for State--Photo Courtesy Lisa Montplaisir)
Swimming has defined who I am as a person for the better part of my life, and it will continue to be a huge part of my life, if I am lucky. I have moved on from competition to start the next chapter of my life, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I now teach swimming lessons in hopes to show kids that swimming can be one of the best things to happen to them. I know it was the best thing that has happened to me. As I sit here typing the last few sentences of my story, I am floored with emotions and the memories I have made over the years at pools. Swimming is so much more than just a sport to me, it has become my refuge when I needed it to be. It has become my home.
(Matt and Sarah Montplaisir back in the pool together after the accident--Photo Courtesy Lisa Montplaisir)