BEMIDJI – Maris Jahner is enjoying her senior year at Bemidji High School. And the Lumberjacks swimming co-captain is having the time of her life in the pool.
“This year has been fun. We’re winning and it is nice to see all of our hard work paying off,” Jahner said.
The Lumberjacks are 7-0 in dual meets and have two victories and one second-place finish in three invitationals.
On Saturday Jahner and her teammates will try for their third tournament win when they head to the Duluth East Invitational.
“I knew we would be good this year because of our mental approach after winning the section meet last year,” Jahner said. “But I didn’t expect our team to have this much depth.
“Each meet we have lineup spots to fill and we have the people to fill them. I like the way everyone can switch events and excel in them,” she added.
Jahner is one of the swimmers who can fill multiple roles. Unlike her teammates, however, Jahner has had to overcome many obstacles to reach this point.
“I was playing basketball in eighth grade and we were doing a 3-man weave,” Jahner recalled. “When I pushed off during the drill my left Achilles tore apart. Nobody knows why it happened.”
That moment on the basketball court would impact Jahner’s life for the next four years.
Jahner endured the surgery and the requisite rehabilitation but her injury never did heal to her satisfaction.
“As soon as I was able to walk after the first surgery I didn’t think I should still have been in that much pain,” Jahner said. “But it never went away so I thought that much pain was normal.”
Last fall BHS swimming coach Woody Leindecker did what he could to make Jahner’s junior season bearable.
“Common sense last year told me to have her scrap her junior season so she could come back and rock her senior year,” Leindecker said. “But Maris didn’t want to do that.
“A 17-year-old kid should be able to enjoy the sport and not be in pain every day,” Leindecker added.
“I wasn’t raised to take a day off,” Jahner said. “I was raised to compete and live with the pain so I figured I had to buck up because I wasn’t going to quit swimming.
“There were hard days, especially when Woody told me to sit out of a practice or to take two weeks off and go home and recover,” Jahner continued.
During this painful recovery period Jahner believed that something wasn’t right despite what the doctors were telling her.
“When I went to the doctors they would check my foot, tell me everything was normal and recommend that I take three Advil,” she said. “But I could see athletes who had ruptured Achilles tendons running 100 yards and playing football a year later. I knew that something wasn’t right.”
During another visit to another doctor the cause of the pain was finally discovered.
“During my first surgery, when they connected the Achilles, they made it one inch too long,” Jahner said. “So when I had my second surgery they cut that extra inch off the Achilles. They also cut four inches off the (peroneus) tendon on the outside of the foot and connected part of it to my Achilles to strengthen that tendon and connected the other part to the bone.”
After more than three years of suffering, the second surgery did the trick.
“It took three years to figure everything out but for the first time since eighth grade I’m healthy,” Jahner said. “It’s fun now to get through a practice. It’s fun to be able to walk through school and jump whenever I want.”
“This year Maris is getting out of swimming what the sport is meant to give,” Leindecker said. “She is still in pain but now it’s the same pain everybody on the team has after a hard workout or a meet. Maris now is able to go through the tough work and be satisfied that she is able to do that without the extra pain.
“This year I am seeing Maris smile,” Leindecker continued. “This year she is a completely different person. She has always been competitive but now Maris is enjoying the sport.”
People who suffer a serious injury or illness often see the world from a different point of view when they recover. And Jahner is included in that group.
“Now I don’t take even the simplest thing for granted,” she said. “There was a time when I couldn’t get my own glass of water. I couldn’t reach the remote. I couldn’t put on my pants because of the cast. There was a time when I lost all of my independency.
“But now I have it back.”
Her teammates also now have one of their captains back at full strength. And if they follow Jahner’s example, there is no telling how far the team can go this fall.
“I think Maris is an inspiration to everybody on the team,” Leindecker said. “I know she is an inspiration to me. I’m just amazed how she came each day to practice last year and how she got through each practice. Despite being in so much pain she was able to make it to the podium at the section meet.
“I just so glad that everything is working out for her this year. It’s great to see that smile.”