HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
On Feb. 22, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and the Carleton University Ravens’ swim teams held a dual meet to get the feel of the competitive waters that had been stripped away by the COVID-19 pandemic during the past two years and prepare for their respective provincial championships as well as upcoming Canadian university championships.
But for the Gee-Gees’ Ryan Jensen, that meet also held a deeper, personal meaning.
For the first time in three years, Jensen was going to experience the rush of being a competitive swimmer again, after a prolonged layoff with a hip injury, surgery, recovery and the frustration of pool closures because of the pandemic.
That racing experience turned out to be something truly special.
As the lead-off swimmer for the Gee-Gees in the men’s 4×50-metre medley relay, Jensen, 22, pushed off the wall for his backstroke segment and then watched as his teammates finish the race with a school record.
“I was ecstatic. I really can’t articulate how it felt to be in that atmosphere to compete rather than to watch. I have a supportive team behind me. That was a great feeling,” said Jensen, whose return to the pool from surgery was about three months ahead of schedule and was the first and only step towards the meaningful RSEQ Quebec university championships last weekend in his home Montpetit Hall pool.
Jensen, a resident of Woodstock, Ont., started his post-secondary studies at the University of Regina in 2018-19 and swam for the Cougars. But he withdrew from the swimming program in the first week of his second year because of severe pain in his right hip. Both hips were painful, but the right one was the worst.
“There was a while when I contemplated whether I would return to the sport,” added Jensen, who spent his final two years at Regina assisting the swim team as a member of the coaching staff and having his name on an orthopaedic surgery waitlist.
After Jensen transferred to the University of Ottawa to study history for the 2021-22 academic season with the hope of swimming for the Gee-Gees, he had an appointment with Ottawa Hospital orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Sasha Carsen in late September, which resulted in a surgical date of Nov. 3.
“I was told by the surgeon the recovery would be six months (May, 2022). It looked like it was going to be an ordeal to get back (to swimming),” he said. “After talking to the guys on the team, I was excited to come back and, if there was time, I wanted to give it another shot.”
His femoroacetabular impingement surgery took more than three hours to repair torn ligaments and muscles around his right hip and clean out bone fragments in the socket. He knew the projected recovery time was half a year, but being a young man in good physical shape otherwise, he thought he could push the envelope and step into the pool earlier. He also was encouraged by the excellent surgery and top-notch physiotherapy.
He was right. Three weeks to the day after his surgery, Jensen, who had already started some upper body training in the gym, entered the pool for some exploratory movement and “Dave (head coach Heinbuch) and I realized that maybe the season wasn’t a write-off.”
Six weeks after surgery, he resumed his full training routine. But then came another pandemic pool lockdown in mid December and he couldn’t return to pool training until the end of January. He applied to Swim Ontario for an exemption to continue training as a high-performance swimmer, but he was denied as he hadn’t competed in several years.
Jensen also joined the Gee-Gees’ swim team much earlier than projected because of his stubbornness to move ahead during a smooth rehab and recovery as well as having a strong support team.
“The predominant reason was the support from my mom, roommate, coaches and physiotherapist,” he explained. “Every person was there 24/7 for what I needed and they helped out. That truly was the game changer. It allowed me to focus on my recovery.”
For the month of February, Jensen trained with his teammates, tested his aerobic capacity in the 100-metre backstroke during the dual meet against Carleton and impressed the coaching staff enough to be named to the university’s 18-swimmer male team for the RSEQ championships.
Jensen swam in two individual races (the 50- and 100-metre backstrokes) and a pair of relay races (4×50-metre medley and 4×100-metre medley). He placed third in both the 50- and 100-metre backstrokes in respective times of 25.59 and 55.87 seconds. His 50-metre time was a personal best and he also swam his fastest 100-metre time (55.25) in the opening leg of the 4×100-metre medley relay, which the Gee-Gees won with help from Hugo Lemesle, Alexandre Perreault and Allen Zheng.
He also swam the opening leg of the 4×50-metre medley relay with Lemesle, Perreault and Thomas Boyd and notched a second-place result.
“I really couldn’t ask for a better first meet. To swim in my home pool was really nice for me. Coming from Regina, we didn’t (play host to) any big meets. The atmosphere was amazing and so were the families,” beamed Jensen, who was energized to have his mother in the spectator gallery along with the parents of teammate Will Barrett, who he considers “my adoptive family.”
As for his second Canadian university swimming championships, Jensen hopes the Gee-Gees’ coaching staff will enter him in the 50-, 100- and 200-metre backstroke races and some relays.
“I’m excited to see what I can contribute,” he added.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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