For any athlete, getting to perform your sport for a college team is a great honor. After over a decade of practice, you finally get to have your big moment where it all comes together, a moment to take all of your accomplishments in and look back with pride on what you’ve achieved. For many athletes, this is both an extremely exciting time, as well as a slightly sad one, as they not only are done with their undergraduate studies, but it’s also the end of a significant chapter of their lives since the end of their time in college usually marks the end of their athletic career as well. Unfortunately, not every athlete gets this chance for their last shining moment. Whether it be due to difficulty maintaining the delicate balance between classwork and training, or simply getting burnt out, not everyone can reach the end they had hoped for in their athletic career.
In the case of Michael Whitehead, however, his final season was cut short by injury – news he only received just a month before what would have been his final competition. “It absolutely crushed me,” said Michael. “It’s like spending 4 years on making a cake, only for it to never be fully made. I can at least say I gave it my all, but it deeply saddens me that I can’t see how far I’ve come.” Michael hit the ground running when he arrived in Evansville, consistently dropping time in his events in his first year on the team. While he had been doing everything he could to stay at his best, he noticed that was beginning to struggle in his events. When he finally found out that he news that he had a tear in his shoulder, the news was unfortunately not entirely surprising. “Leading up to this point I was consistently performing worse than my teammates and the pain I had to deal with made me feel like it was my own fault. When I found out that it wasn’t my own mistake, but rather a lingering tear in my shoulder, I felt a bit better about myself.” Of course, this was still devastating news to hear. “Knowing that no matter what I did, I would be unable to swim after 4 years of giving everything I had in the water. It’s just like losing everything you had right at the finish line. If I could go back in time, I would get a scan done much quicker, rather than blaming myself for struggling in the pool.”
One of Michael’s closest teammates, Griffin Hammett, was also disappointed at the news. “I was so sad about losing such a close friend when we were so close to the end of our careers as swimmers. I know how tough he has been for fighting through his injury to keep swimming, and it really made me sad since I wouldn’t be able to see him close out his career with the end of our season being just a few weeks away. Michael truly is the glue of our team that brings all of us together and keeps us in good spirits. Griffin and Michael met in their first year at Evansville, and have been friends ever since. “Our old coach had recruited both of us here and thought it would be a good idea for us to room together since he believed we would get along. We first met at a pizza restaurant called Pangea which is just a little bit off campus. It was definitely an awkward feeling at first, but after 5 minutes we really clicked since we realized that we had so much in common, and our conversations came so easily.” Griffin and Michael have spent years training and competing together, and have helped to push each other through all of the challenges that came with their training. “Swimming is an extremely tough sport, and it makes me sad knowing that he won’t get to see all of his hard work finally pay off. If the roles were reversed, I know I would be feeling just the same way. Years and years of hard work, early mornings, and time consumed, and not being able to see it through and being unable to finish would leave me feeling hollow since I would never know what I could have accomplished. We’ve lived together all of our college careers and I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate and friend these past four years.”
With the end of the season still coming up for his teammates, Michael has resolved to still support his friends. “While I enjoy supporting my teammates, it is greatly saddening to not be with them in the water,” he said. “It has been difficult even just to watch, especially knowing that it was my last year ever in the water. A lot of my teammates often like to joke around and act like I got out easy, but what they don’t realize is what comes after you finish. For me, once I realized I had lost all the chances of seeing all the improvement I had worked towards, it ended up being quite sad since swimming would always remain an unfinished chapter of my life.” Swimming, like any sport, takes a lot of time, commitment, and patience to reach the goals you set for yourself, and not getting to finish what you started is ultimately a heartbreaking moment. “I wish it wasn’t an injury that ended my career since it’s the one thing I can’t overcome without giving up the thing I enjoy the most.”