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A great finish for a great swimmer

BY ROD ENGBLOM | FEBRUARY 26, 2015 5:00 AM

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This year’s Big Ten championships included 11 new school records for the Hawkeyes along with a first-place title by senior Becky Stoughton.

She placed first in the 1,650 freestyle, the first Big Ten title for the Hawkeye’s women’s swimming team since 2001, when Melissa Loehndorf won the 200 butterfly.

On top of her Big Ten title, Stoughton also set school records in the 500 freestyle preliminaries and the 200-medley relay, and she was part of the 400-medley relay.

“Personally, for my performance, I was really happy.” Stoughton said. “I never thought I would actually get to this point, and it was really exciting.”

All the success Stoughton saw in her final season as a Hawkeye was a great finish for a swimmer who has overcome quite a bit of adversity.

Stoughton had success in her freshman year at Iowa, placing third in the 500 freestyle, fourth in the 400 medley, and sixth in the 1,650 freestyle at the conference meet.

But since the beginning of her sophomore year, she has been plagued with injuries in both of her ankles and, later, in her shoulder.

“My sophomore year I was starting to have these pains in both my ankles, and it was really bad,” Stoughton said. “It was bugging me, and I wasn’t able to train very hard, and I wasn’t able to compete very well.”

The pain Stoughton was feeling in her ankles was due to a birth defect in the shape of her anklebones. The unnatural shape led to excessive rubbing that was amplified when she trained, resulting in excruciating pain in both of her ankles.

Stoughton eventually had to have surgery on her ankles; right when she began to overcome the injury, she was faced with another.

“Once I had the surgery done, I was pulling a lot and trying to get back into it.” Stoughton said. “Then my bursa swelled really bad in my shoulder to the point where it wasn’t going to come back down, so they had to remove it.”

The bursa sack is a small fluid-filled sac that provides cushion to bones, muscles, and tendons around a joint. In Stoughton’s case, it was in her shoulder joint.

All these surgeries took a large toll on her training, and she was forced to miss large chunks of the season her junior year.

“I got my ankles done at the very end of my sophomore year, and then the first week of my junior year, I had the shoulder surgery.” Stoughton said. “I was out for over half the season.”

Stoughton then tried to come back later that season, but she still experienced pain.

She was able to swim in the 2014 Big Tens, swimming in the B-final for the 200 butterfly and the B-final for the 500 freestyle.

“After the 200 butterfly, I was in tears because it hurt so bad,” she said. “I was swimming the 200 fly, because I couldn’t physically swim the mile last year because of the pain.”

Not being physically capable to swim to her full potential during the 2014 season put a damper on Stoughton’s confidence. But with hard work, determination, and support from her family, friends, and coaches, she was able to overcome her disappointing season.

Head coach Marc Long said he was proud of Stoughton after the Big Tens.

“Not only is she stronger and she recovered from her injuries, but mentally, she’s become more wise as she competes,” Long said. “She’s really taken care of herself. That’s what’s impressive, and she’s somebody that the team can look up to this year.”

Stoughton has come full circle from her freshman year and is grateful that she was able to compete this season in good health.

“It was cool this year to be able to swim the 200 butterfly twice with a mile in between and have no pain,” she said. “I think that was my favorite part of this whole thing. Last year, I couldn’t do one of my events, and this year I was able to do them all.”

Without any pain, Stoughton was able to lead the team in a great regular season and finish with an individual Big Ten title.

Stoughton will head off to the NCAA championships along with fellow NCAA-qualifier sophomore Emma Sougstad, who will compete in the 100 breaststroke on March 19-21 in North Carolina.

“I don’t know what I’ll do without Becky,” Sougstad said. “She’s the best teammate I can ask for, and she’s there for me whenever I need her, and she’s such a good role model for anyone, and she will be missed, and I’m really thankful that I get to spend this trip with her.”

Follow @RodEngblom on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa women’s swimming and diving team.


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