My head injury --> now
My head injury occurred in a suburb of Houston, Texas in the fall of 1989, when I was three years old. My older brother James and my older sister Joy were competing in a swimming gala, and I was watching them from above in the grandstands, which were ill-equipped for providing safety. As a result, I was either nudged or fell on my own, falling headfirst into the concrete below. Immediately unconscious, the gala was stopped and an ambulance was called. I was taken to a local hospital to be life-flighted to the larger hospital (Memorial Hermann) in Houston.
The doctors were not hopeful, as my skull had fractured and they believed I had suffered a seizure, although they later could not confirm that this definitely occurred. My spine was not broken at the cervical level as feared, but I had no brain activity and was in a comatose state. The doctors were most worried about my brain swelling, which could consequently cause massive brain damage or death, so they took preventative measures to keep this from happening. I am told I had no brain activity for three to four days, but started to slowly emerge from my comatose state after that period. By day five or six, I was conscious, and by day seven I was responding. My dad hummed my favourite songs to me while I was in my in-between state, and apparently I started to hum along with him, shocking the doctors almost as much as my parents. Within the next week I had recovered, and was able to go home.
I attended a neurologist's office and lengthy tests were administered after I was discharged. According to my grandma and father, on one occasion the doctor asked me to say my ABC's and I replied 'I'll say them backwards, too!' and spouted off 'zyx,wv...' all the way back to a. At that, the doctor said I would be fine, and I was able to stop seeing him regularly. I attended the neurologist off and on throughout my life, but more for preventative measures, as I deemed at risk for seizures but, thankfully, suffered none.
The only significant (if you can even measure it as such) side effects I have suffered from the injury are as follows:
- I have a susceptibility to concussions after light blows to the head. I have likely had 20-30 at this stage, and have been in the hospital a few times for them (last was in 2002) but, like I said above, this is quite minor in my opinion, compared to what could have potentially happened as a result of my injury.
- I have slight damage to my occipital nerve. As a result my eyes lose focus easily. To aid this I started wearing bifocals at the age of 18, which my optometrists both in Texas and Dublin find very amusing!
- My C1 and C2 vertebrae are compacted, which have caused migraines throughout my life and I was on medication for quite a while to prevent/cope with them. They were quite severe during my later teen years, and my neurologist recommended me to attend physiotherapy, which helped, although I still get migraines from time to time.
- I am extremely clumsy, but it is inconclusive whether this relates to my head injury!
Other than that, I have enjoyed a blessed life, including a life filled with swimming! After I recovered from my fall, my parents insisted that I learn to swim. (I was not happy about this proposition at all!) I eventually learned, and fell in love with the sport. I started swimming on a club team when I was 5, and never really looked back. I went on to hold Texas state records and was consistently on the top-16 times in the U.S. for my age group. I qualified for junior nationals at 12, and U.S. nationals at 14. I was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials team, and swam a year at University of Texas. I had to withdraw due to a chronic ankle injury, which resulted in four reconstructive surgeries to repair the ankle joint and surrounding ligaments/tendons. I graduated from Univ. of Texas with a BA in English in 2006 and a Bachelor of Journalism in 2007.
Upon graduation from my Journalism degree, I moved to Dublin to start my postgraduate degrees at University College Dublin. I completed my MA in American Studies at the Clinton Institute for American Studies in 2008, and am now in the first year of my PhD in the same department.
Sea swimming --> swimming the Channel!
When I first moved to Dublin in May of 2007, I decided to get back swimming, as I had not swam since my fourth ankle surgery in January, which resulted in me being in a cast/crutches/cain until April. (Unfortunately I spent the majority of my time at Uni on crutches and/or in a cast!) I joined NAC Masters, and was told that sea swimming was the summer activity, so I decided I'd give it a go.
Although I was freezing, I very quickly fell in love with sea swimming, primarily because there was no wall to push off of, which always caused ankle pain. I did a few sea swims in Leinster and decided I would try the Irish Open Water Nationals (a 5k in Dublin Bay from Windsurfers to the East Wall). I placed first for women, and that summer I later went on to earn the fastest female times in the Lee Swim (Cork), the Dún Laoghaire Harbour swim and the Dublin City Liffey Swim. To finish off the 2007 season, I decided to do a long-distance swim, a 12km in Cork from Blackrock to Cobh. At this point I had been exposed to the culture of long-distance swimming, and soon became almost addicted to the sport. It was like discovering a whole new way to view something I had done my entire life. Swimming was always about going a best time or beating my competition; now it was how to survive in freezing water while encountering any combination of conditions for a very long time. I loved it, and decided I wanted more of it. I talked to a very experienced open water swimmer, Ned Denison, about some potential swimming opportunities, one in particular being the English Channel. With his help, I booked a pilot that 2007 summer for a 2009 tide.
In 2008 I did the same season, but added a 10k in Clew Bay and an 8-mile swim off the coast of Inishbofin in Co. Galway.
Last fall I joined one of Swim Ireland's club teams, Coolmine Swimming Club, and have been training under Coach Brian Gibson. Through the fall/winter, I also swam in the sea once a week in Portmarnock with a group of swimmers dedicated to cold-water swimming adventures. We braved water temperatures as cold as 4 degrees with air temps at 0. I did this training to gear myself up for the Channel, as I'll be spending anywhere from 8-11 hours in 15-18 degree water.
A few weeks ago, I went to Malta for a Long Distance training trip with Swimtrek. There I swam for six hours in 15-degree water, which is one of the requirements for swimming the Channel. I am now swimming a few times a week at the Bull Wall in Clontarf and with the crew out at Portmarnock. Once water temperatures rise a bit more, I will be swimming almost daily for hours on end to train for my Channel, in addition to my pool training with Coolmine. I will be covering distances of 10-30k in my sessions.
How Headway fits into all of this...
When I booked my Channel swim, I decided I would create a blog to keep all my friends and family informed of my swimming. I also started to research Irish charities, as I wanted to do my Channel for a good cause. When I read about Headway, I was deeply impacted. Throughout my life I always reminded myself of how lucky I was to survive my head injury, and how blessed I was to be given so many opportunities. I thought it was a perfect way for me to pay tribute to a charity which dedicates itself to helping people with ABI (acquired brain injury). Recently I met with some of the Headway staff and some of the service-users. I am delighted to work with them and promote ABI awareness however I can.
Some useful links...
-http://www.jgalswims.com -- my Web site
-http://www.channelswimming.net -- the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (English Channel facts can be found under 'General Info')
-http://www.swimireland.ie/index.cfm/loc/9 -- Swim Ireland's Open Water Swimming section
-http://www.ildsa.info -- Irish Long Distance Swimming Association