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“Career-ending” – that was 18-year-old Kiana Junior’s initial diagnosis when her back spasmed so severely that her muscle protruded two inches from her left side. But, for this competitive swimmer, who dreams of someday making it to the Olympics, career-ending was not an option.
Thankfully Kiana’s swim coach agreed. He sent her to the Sports Medicine Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado, where she partnered with three sports medicine physical therapists to heal, regain her strength and get back to the pool.
When Kiana started physical therapy at Children’s Colorado, she was relieved to learn that her “crazy back injury” wasn’t actually crazy in the eyes of her physical therapists, Lana Gallegos and Michael Sclafani. This was especially true for Michael, who overcame a similar injury during his rugby career.
Because of this knowledge and experience, the team collaborated to develop a physical therapy plan that addressed Kiana’s specific injury and needs as a swimmer.
“They worked to not just get me back to regular, everyday life, but to get me back into my sport,” Kiana said. “That was probably the biggest thing…they really, really cared about getting me back to swimming.”
One of the biggest differentiators for Kiana was that Lana and Michael didn’t just assign her exercises to take home and practice on her own. They worked with her to complete her exercises in the hospital’s sports therapy gym, providing guidance and realignment along the way.
Kiana’s goal was to heal, regain her strength and get back in the pool so she could continue the sport she loves. After 10 challenging months, she’s done just that and continues to work with the physical therapy team to improve her strength.
“I remember when I finally broke a minute in short-course 100 backstroke. I was crying profusely, and all my coaches were hugging me,” Kiana said. “It was really exciting. I didn't make finals, but that was the most exciting thing I've ever done.”
Now Kiana’s swim career continues, just as she promised herself it would. In fact, she is headed to swim on a varsity team in college and her swimming goals don’t stop there. Kiana, like many passionate athletes, hopes to someday make it to the Olympics.