Splash, drip, rattle, the sound of athletes plunging into the pool during swimming and diving practices. One student, in particular, makes an impactful splash as she dives back into the season after a painful injury. Cat Watrous is a sophomore who swims for both the Redwood and Northbay Aquatics swim teams. Back in 2018, Watrous faced an injury that not only changed her swimming career but shaped her into the resilient and determined athlete she is today.
Being a year-round swimmer, Watrous spends the majority of her free time in the water. While Redwood swim practice is only once a week, she invests her time into swimming in other ways. Watrous swims for Northbay Aquatics every day of the week and does weight training in the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning. By spending every day in the pool, Watrous hopes to place first at Nationals in the near future.
“We swim about 7000 yards a practice on average, sometimes more sometimes less. We do a lot of high-intensity workouts to build aerobic capacity,” Watrous said.
Along with the numerous hours of practice, Watrous competes at multiple meets throughout the year. These meets are in places dispersed across the country such as Orlando, Seattle, Oregon, SoCal, Indianapolis, and Texas.
Ever since her first day swimming with the Tiburon Strawberry Seals, Watrous found a burning passion for the sport.
“When I was younger it was this really fun activity I got to do every week with my best friend, but as I got older it became a place where I could just go and forget about everything that was going on and focus on something I really love doing,” Watrous said.
One winter, after a rigorous week of finals in December of 2018, Watrous and some friends went up to Lake Tahoe for a ski trip. Throughout the day, Watrous and her friends were going off jumps and skiing down black diamonds. On one jump, Watrous lost her balance and landed on her back. At first, she didn’t notice that anything was wrong, but as the day went on she started to feel pain in her lower back.
“On the last jump of the day, I landed and fell right on my back, I thought I was fine so I kept skiing,” Watrous said.
Although Watrous continued to swim for a month after her fracture, she eventually went to a doctor, who told her she fractured her L4 and L5, the two lowest vertebrae in the lumbar spine. This affected her whole upper body because the L4-L5 spinal motion segment provides support to the upper body and allows movement in multiple directions. Watrous had immense pain when she attempted to dive into the pool and again when she lifted her body out of the water.
“I had to take about a month off when I was getting back into it. I couldn’t really kick because the fracture was so low in my back that it affected my legs. I had to swim with a back brace,” Watrous said.
In addition to competing at nearby meets, Watrous swims at Nationals, an invitational meet where elite swimmers across the country compete against each other.
Initially, the doctor told Watrous she had to take two months off before training again. However, knowing Nationals was just a couple weeks away, Watrous began swimming after just a month of recovery.
“I couldn’t take one more day of sitting out, I had to get back into the pool if I wanted to compete against some of the best swimmers in the country,” Watrous said.
Unfortunately, because of the inadequate rest time, Watrous worsened the condition of her back. When revisiting the doctor in August, she learned the bone still was not completely fused, which would lengthen her recovery time.
Luckily, Watrous had supportive teammates and friends that supported her during her recovery. Redwood sophomore and teammate, Gwen Kallmeyer speaks about Watrous’s resilient mentality when facing her back injury.
“I think if this had happened to anyone else, they would not have kept swimming and kept pushing. [Watrous] was in a lot of pain but that didn’t stop her from training and practicing to get better,” Kallmeyer said.
Watrous’s setback did not stop her as she continued to put in the time and effort into swimming.
“Every time I’m in the pool [now], I think about how lucky I am that I get to continue doing something I love without the pain,” Watrous said.
Now that it has been some time since her injury, Watrous is on the road back to full recovery, treating each practice like it could be her last.