Swimmers face lasting effects from COVID-19

Drowning is the last thing that would be associated with the highly successful women’s swimming and diving team. However, that is what Emily Alama said she felt like was happening when she dove back into practice after three weeks of quarantine. 

Like many of her teammates, Alama initially believed if she contracted the virus, her symptoms would quickly subside. As time passed, she realized this sentiment could not have been further from the truth. 

As the pandemic raged through campus in the fall of 2020, a handful of Augustana swimmers contracted the virus from their peers. With so much uncertainty surrounding the effects of the virus, it was unclear how much it would impact athletes. 

Lasting effects plagued the swimmers to varying degrees. Augustana’s primary care team physician Dr. Scott Boyens compared it to symptoms of mono: the harder an athlete tries to push through the long lasting effects, the worse it will be for them. 

“From a physical standpoint, it’s a continuum that is different for everybody,” Boyens said.

Alama was initially diagnosed with COVID-19 in September. Her immediate symptoms were extreme fatigue and high fever. After two weeks of quarantine, she felt almost back to her normal self. Unfortunately, during her first swimming practice, she quickly realized that her recovery time would take much longer than she had anticipated. 

After multiple visits with Boyens and her personal doctor, Alama came to the conclusion that she needed to sit out for this year’s season. 

In addition to not participating in team practices, Alama had trouble even walking to class at times. When she went home for winter break, her fatigue worsened which resulted in her staying at home until a few weeks into spring semester. 

“It’s very hard to feel a part of your team when you are gone from campus for six months, and you can’t swim,” Alama said. 

Sophomore Lydia Smith also experienced long-term effects after she tested positive for COVID-19 in September. 

When she was quarantined, Smith lost appetite and taste and smell and experienced fatigue. Upon returning to the pool, she also had a difficult time jumping into the deep end of practice right away.

“I felt like my body physically recovered quite well, but my heart and lungs are so behind in the recovery,” Smith said. 

At the start of the season in January, Smith felt ready to compete. However, after her first race in the 50 meter free-style event, her resting heart rate was significantly higher than it should have been for an hour after her initial race. 

After a few competitions, Smith became more used to “the feeling of how it was to race with these things.” As Smith acclimated to these new challenges, she adopted a different mindset toward swimming. 

“Just being able to race at all was kind of a big thing in itself,” Smith said.

Scarring of the lungs was a long-lasting impact sophomore Cailey Scott had to deal with after contracting COVID-19 mid-September. 

Similar to her teammates, Scott’s symptoms appeared to be mild: sore throat, fever, body aches and loss of taste and smell. Scott returned to practice after three weeks and began experiencing bouts of sustained increased heart rate, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and a cough. 

Over winter break, Scott sought out a cardiologist for an answer. After wearing a heart monitor over a period of time, they scanned her lungs to understand the cause of her rapid heart rate. Scott had pneumonia-like scarring on her lungs from the virus. 

“After a break from swimming, these symptoms have begun to alleviate themselves, although I still experience bouts of exhaustion and chest pain,” Scott said. 

The athletes shared similar feelings about the pandemic before testing positive for the virus. 

“Before contracting the virus, I knew that COVID-19 had a large effect on communities of people, and I did not want to be a part of the problem,” Scott said. “I very much had a ‘that would never happen to me’ mentality, but I quickly learned that the virus can have a large detrimental effect on even the healthiest of teenagers.”

Despite the tides of their long-term effects, these athletes fought back and have taken their own experiences as opportunities to grow. 

“I still love swimming but it’s my team and coaches that make it worth being on the team,” Smith said.

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