The Deep End

It’s been a few years since I patrolled the sidelines as an athletic trainer, but a conversation with a couple of my cousins who have daughters playing basketball and volleyball reminded me that ankle sprains are the head colds of sports injuries. Everybody gets one eventually, and despite throwing millions of dollars of research and technology at the problem, we can’t seem to prevent either one.

One of my more memorable ankle rehab experiences occurred in Pendleton, Oregon, where I acted as the athletic trainer for both Pendleton High School and Blue Mountain Community College. I arrived at BMCC one afternoon to find Anthony, their backup point guard, nursing a purple, swollen ankle from the previous night’s game. After determining that the sprain was relatively mild, I recommended that he head to the college pool to do some exercises to work out the stiffness and swelling.

“No practice tonight,” I said. “Get an Aqua-Jogger® belt from the lifeguard, then go to the deep end and do some easy, non-weightbearing running. I’ll be down to check on you as soon as I finish up with the rest of these guys.”

Anthony seemed skeptical, but I shooed him away so I could deal with the aches and pains of the rest of the team. An Aqua-Jogger® is hardly the most complicated piece of equipment ever invented, just a wide foam belt that straps around your waist and holds you upright at the top of the water so you can go through the motions of running without touching the bottom of the pool. Any of the lifeguards could show him how it worked.

Except one.

Unknown to me, a brand new lifeguard was on duty that day and he didn’t know an Aqua-Jogger® from a lead weight. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if he didn’t happen to have lead-weighted belts on hand. The kind scuba divers use so they can sink to the ocean floor and stay there, the better to explore corals reefs and play Patty-Cake with sharks. And somewhere in this rookie lifeguard’s chlorine-addled brain it made perfect sense that I would send a basketball player down to run laps on the bottom of the deep end of the swimming pool. So guess which kind of belt he gave to Anthony?

I found Anthony sitting on the side of the pool, sucking air. As I approached, he gave me a look that suggested he doubted my credentials, if not my sanity.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Not so good,” he said mournfully. “I can only run about three steps at a time.”

“Three steps?” I echoed, baffled. A college athlete in top physical condition should’ve been bobbing back and forth across the pool like a very gangly duckling. “Why can’t you go any farther? Does it hurt?”

“Not really,” he said. “But that’s as long as I can hold my breath.”


Kari Lynn Dell  –