Lindsey McKnight’s Unscripted Journey Back to the Pool
By Ben Schmitz
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The biggest race of Lindsey McKnight’s senior year didn’t start on the blocks of a pool deck. She wasn’t lined up in lanes one through eight, or anywhere near a pool for that matter. It’s been a race against time, and a fight just to return to swimming after suffering the most significant injury she’s ever dealt with.
This race started at what was supposed to be a relaxing Fourth of July weekend, an enjoyable few days with friends at the lake where nothing is scripted to go wrong. After all, a promising senior year was ahead of her at the University of Florida.
Yet, in this particular race, just before the starting horn sounded, this peaceful weekend suddenly derailed into a devastating accident.
This wasn’t some sprained-ankle type of mishap. The three-time NCAA Championships qualifier was confined in a wheelchair with casts on both legs and unable to do what she loves most — swim.
“I was going down a waterslide into the lake and I just remember hitting the ground with such power. I felt an immediate impact in both legs,” McKnight said. “As I started to get up, I knew something was wrong right away. Both my legs were in a severe pain and, even while being in the water, I couldn’t walk. I yelled over to my teammate Corey [Main] who was the closest at the time and he kind of looked at me funny. He knew something was up at that point.
“He rushed over as I just tried to stand up on my own, which wasn’t working well in itself. I struggled to make my way over toward the shore, but at the same time I didn’t want Corey to carry me either, with the excruciating pain I was dealing with. I sort of floated and paddled my way over toward the shore until I was somewhat close.”
Paramedics were quick to the scene and lifted the impaired McKnight to a nearby ambulance by way of a stretcher. Anxiously waiting to arrive at the hospital, she held in the pain of not knowing what was wrong or how significant the injury could be.
McKnight received the official prognosis from the doctors soon after her arrival. Knowing something was noticeably wrong, she was given the news. On the right leg was a broken tibia and broken fibula, along with a broken left ankle.
While some athletes might loathe in the disdain from a significant setback, especially in a sport that relies so heavily on the use of one’s legs, McKnight wasn’t one to hang her head.
She didn’t even think about the possibility of it keeping her out of the sport she loves.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be great news,” said McKnight. “After I heard the doctor’s prognosis, I knew it was going to take some time to come back.
“As significant as the injury was, there wasn’t ever a point where I thought my career was over though. There wasn’t even consideration of redshirting at the time. It was more of an, ‘Okay, what’s happened has happened — let’s move on. How soon before we can get going on rehab? I’m ready to start the comeback.’”
In a perfect world, McKnight would have overcome the injury far ahead of schedule and coasted through rehab. But that’s not the case in this story. Her comeback took nearly five months and remains an ongoing effort. There have been countless hours of rehab, dieting restrictions, and agonizing moments in the weight room while McKnight watched on as her teammates excelled in their workouts — all while feeling seemingly helpless in her wheelchair.
“It has been difficult, there’s no question about it,” McKnight said. “Both from a mental and physical standpoint, it’s been tough. Watching everyone else running around the weight room and doing their workouts is great for them. But to me, I couldn’t help but think, ‘I’m only falling further and further behind each day.’ I would always wheel around and do whatever I could with my upper body, but it was tough to not be doing anything with my lower body.”
Though difficult to envision, the potential end result continued to keep her motivated.
“It was extremely important for me to make the comeback this year because I wanted to finish what I had started with my senior class,” McKnight said. “This is the group I started my adventure at UF with and these are the teammates I’ve been training side-by-side amongst over these past four years.”
Now, with five months of work behind her, McKnight has escaped the casts that previously restricted both legs. She’s left the crutches behind that helped her walk out of her wheelchair for the first time.
And on November 6, when the Gators hosted South Carolina inside the O’Connell Center, McKnight competed for the first time in 2015, marking yet another milestone in the comeback.
“From both a mental and physical standpoint, it felt good to be back in the pool,” said McKnight. I knew I could do it, I just needed to get back out there and get things started again. There were a few aches and pains I noticed after my race but, overall, it felt good to get that first meet in the books.”
Florida Head Coach Gregg Troy echoed McKnight’s remarks, acknowledging there is a starting point with every return from an injury.
“She competed really well for it being the first time back in the pool,” Troy said. “We’ve been in the full swing of practice for two weeks now so she knew she could do it. But at the same time, it was slightly off what we had hoped to accomplish from a times standpoint so she’s got a long ways to go yet.
Troy Added, “She’s done a remarkable job of taking care of herself physically throughout this process. She was smart about what she ate and she made sure she took care of herself from all aspects.
“While the rest of the team participated in our regular training regimen, she did upper body workouts the entire time and she’s been conscious about making sure she does everything in her control to come back as soon as possible. With that type of work ethic and what we’ve seen out of her, we’re not putting any limitations on the success and potential she could have.
McKnight and the Gators are scheduled to return to the pool this Friday, Nov. 21, when they travel to Columbus, Ohio, for the three-day Buckeye Invitational. There, McKnight and Troy will have the opportunity to evaluate her progress once more as she continues this remarkable journey.
“She’s had some ups and downs along the way, but she continues to work hard,” said Troy. “When you put all that work, character, and toughness together, it gives her a great outlook on what she’s trying to do and what lies ahead for her.”
Florida Swim Network