As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day (Monday March 8), the global sports community is also recognising the women athletes leading the swimming charts, a very well gender-balanced discipline.
Sweden's first female swimming Olympic gold medallist and multi-time World champion Sarah Sjostrom, 27, is definitely one of the strongest faces in the discipline. She perfectly embodies the definition of a strong woman in sport, not only by leading with her outstanding results but also with her resilience. She, more than anyone, has the ability to spring back into shape in no time. Her mental strength, as well as her physical skills, make her a leading example of a female success story in our sport.
The sprinter, specialised in freestyle and butterfly, was left with a broken elbow five months short from the Olympic Games after an unfortunate accident in February.
After slipping on ice, Sjostrom had no choice but undergo a surgery on February 8. Despite this major intervention, the swimming ace is back in the pool asserting her determination.
She explains to FINA how she is slowly resuming to training and how she keeps motivation up.
It is an athlete’s worst nightmare to get a physical injury that prevents them from training ahead of a major competition and many dreams and ambitions come into mind when something as unfortunate as this happens.
“Honestly the pain was my main issue from the beginning. I initially didn’t think too much about the competitions at first because I was in a lot of pain,” admits Sjostrom.
“Obviously it was devastating when my doctor told me straight away that he had bad news for me. I had a fracture in my elbow and it was also necessary to go through surgery.”
“A lot of things were going through my mind there. I was thinking about how long the recovery time would be. My doctor also said that in a way this was a good fracture and that the surgery wouldn’t be too complicated but that I was not going to be able to swim for about 12 weeks,” she adds.
“It was only in the last three weeks that I started thinking about the competitions because I still don’t know how long it will take and how fast I will be able to come back again.”
LOOKING AHEAD AND COMING BACK STRONGER
Sjostrom, who refuses to accept defeat, sets the tone soon after her surgery saying that she is a “warrior, not a worrier” on an Instagram post. FINA wanted to find out more about her champion’s philosophy.
“I thought it was not ideal and a very bad timing but maybe there is a possibility to come back stronger.”
Mental strength plays a crucial role in every athlete’s success, especially in these types of circumstances. Resilience and self-motivation are key.
“I can only try to make it work. I even tend to think that sometimes a big challenge like this can make you even stronger. I try to see it as a challenge that I have to beat. Who knows, maybe I will get back even stronger after this challenge!”
With rehabilitation, Sjostrom is making great progress and she stays focused to retrieve the full mobility of her arm as she takes baby steps in the gym with her medical team.
“I have been working quite hard in the pool. I have been back in the water for a week now. I can do spinning and some leg exercises in the gym. I do my best to stay fit and hopefully it will be enough to come back strong when I can start using my arm again.”
“The first three weeks, I couldn’t be in the water because of the stiches. It needed to heal and I needed to remove the stiches before I was allowed to go back in the water but since then but I am not allowed to use my right arm until it fully repairs. The fracture needs to heal first,” she explains.
Always trying to see the positive in every situation, Sjostrom adds: “I work hard with my physiotherapist in rehab to try to get better mobility in my arm but I can’t do any kind of heavy lifting at all. I can’t actually do barely anything with my arm expect from flexing and extension of the elbow. It is the only kind of training I can do. Otherwise I can actually swim with my left arm and I can use my legs so it is not so bad.”
REVISED GOALS FOR TOKYO
With all of this in mind, Sarah is realistic and rightly setting herself small goals every day after this major surgery to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
“Earlier in the year, my goal was three medals in Tokyo. Now I am just trying to take very small steps. I can’t set huge goals right now, it wouldn’t be realistic for the moment. The first goal is to touch my head again. And the next goal is for the fracture to heal. I am taking everything step by step. Small progress. The goals are a little bit lower now than they were four weeks ago.”
Despite the uncertainty of the near future, Sjostrom is looking forward to next season and can’t wait to race again.
“I hope it will be a better season next year because a lot of competitions have been postponed. I still don’t really know what the schedule will look like for next season but hopefully I will be racing a lot more.”
“Abu Dhabi is absolutely in the cards if the COVID-19 pandemic is over. I hope I can be there,” Sjostrom concluded.
We wish Sjostrom a swift recovery and the best of luck for the Games and any other competitions she plans to attend.