Honkoly’s mirac­u­lously back in pool

North Penn Life - - Sports - By Denny Dyroff Spe­cial to Mont­gomery Me­dia

Methac­ton High School girls swim team has a tradition of pro­duc­ing stand­out swimmers. Michelle honkoly is one of them. The freestyle ace, who swims for Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, was on state-cal­iber re­lay teams at Methac­ton with Blaire hin­sey, who now swims at sir­ginia Tech, and hris­ten Rod­man, who is one of Penn State’s top freestylers.

honkoly’s ca­reer as a swim­mer for the Hoyas was go­ing well through her fresh­man sea­son — and then came to a screech­ing halt on a cold, win­ter night in D.C.

In the early morn­ing of Jan. 11, 2011, honkoly was at­tempt­ing to open a win­dow in her door room be­cause of ex­ces­sive heat in the room when the ac­ci­dent hap­pened. She fell out the wLnGRw DnG SOuPPHWHG fiYH VWRULHV WR the ground be­low. Amaz­ingly, she sur­vived the fall. “, IHOO fiYH VWRULHV DnG ODnGHG Rn Py feet,” said honkoly. “I dam­aged my spine and had a lot of other in­juries. I have rods and pins in me that will never come out. My discs were Oh — just the ver­te­brae body got squished. When I woke up at the hospi­tal, I was pretty freaked out. But, be­ing a swim­mer, I was able to put it in per­spec­tive.

“The pain now is nowhere near what it was. I went back to school last fall.”

Ini­tially, doc­tors were skep­ti­cal that honkoly would ever walk again. But, the spir­ited ath­lete showed that she is the swim­ming world’s ver­sion of sin­nie Pazienza.

When Pazienza was the ju­nior mid­dleweight world cham­pion, he suf­fered a bro­ken neck in a car crash and WKH GRFWRUV WROG KLP KH’G nHYHU fiJKW again. Af­ter an amaz­ing re­hab, Paz made one of box­ing’s most in­cred­i­ble come­backs when he re­turned to the ULnJ IRU VHYHUDO PRUH WLWOH fiJKWV.

honkoly not only re­turned to Ge­orge­town for her stud­ies last year, she re­turned to the pool and swam some ex­hi­bi­tion races with the Hoyas’ team. This sum­mer, she com­peted in the U.S. Par­a­lympics Tri­als and just missed earn­ing a berth on the na­tional team.

“Af­ter red-shirt­ing last year, I hope to swim for Ge­orge­town this year,” said honkoly, who was a 2010 run­nerup for the Tri­an­gle Club’s an­nual Dan­nehower Award. “My left leg is get­ting bet­ter. It’s still not 100 per­cent but I’m hop­ing that it will continue to im­prove.

“I’m able to func­tion­ally nav­i­gate stairs. I did an­other round of re­hab this sum­mer at Magee (Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Hos­pi­talF. My limp is hardly no­tice­able now — at least I hope it is. I think I’m go­ing past the timetable the doc­tors expected. I think I blew them away with my swim­ming.”

Al­ways an in­tense com­peti­tor, honkoly came very close to earn­ing a spot on the Team UpA squad that headed to Lon­don ear­lier this month for the Par­a­lympics.

“Af­ter I got hurt, I thought about the Par­a­lympics,” said honkoly, who was one of the top aca­demic students in her class at Methac­ton. “I wDnWeG Wo finG soPeWKLng Ln which I could be com­pet­i­tive and try to win.

“When I came back for spring break this year, my mom had talked to some Par­a­lympics coaches. po, I went down to Bal­ti­more and swam for them. They gave me some help­ful things to work on. For ex­am­ple, they told me to use my legs less.”

Af­ter that, honkoly de­cided to pur­sue the sport com­pet­i­tively again. phe com­peted in the GTAC Dis­abil­ity lpen in Cincin­nati DnG TuDOL­fieG IoU WKe 2012 UpA Par­a­lympics Tri­als. With the Par­a­lympics, swim­ming is di­vided into LPSDLUPenW gUouSs — S1113 IoU DWKOeWes wLWK vL­suDO LPSDLUPenWs, S1-10 IoU DOO other phys­i­cal im­pair­ments (lower num­ber rep­re­sents PosW seveUe) DnG S14 Ls for ath­letes with a learn­ing dis­abil­ity.

“I com­pete in the p9 cat­e­gory for freestyle events, my spe­cialty,” said honkoOy. “, wDs FODssL­fieG Ds WKLs level due to weak­ness in my left leg from my spinal cord in­jury. pome other swimmers in this class have one leg am­pu­tated above the knee or one arm am­pu­tated be­low the el­bow.”

At the UpA Par­a­lympics Tri­als at Bis­marck ptate Col­lege in North Dakota, .onNoOy finLsKeG Ds sLOveU medal­ist in three p9 events. ,n WKe 400-PeWeU IUeesWyOe, sKe DUULveG wLWK D 5:22.96 seed time and swam a 5:08.53 Ln WKe SUeOLPLnDULes. SKe WooN seFonG Ln WKe finDOs DW 5:05.59 Wo UDnN seFonG Ln WKe U.S. DnG 14WK Ln WKe world.

honkoly’s seed time in WKe 50 IUee wDs 32.30 DnG sKe FOoFNeG D 31.10 Ln boWK WKe SUeOLPs DnG WKe finDOs to rank sec­ond in the U.p. DnG 15WK Ln WKe woUOG. HeU besW GUoS FDPe Ln WKe 100 IUee — 1:08.86 Ds seeG WLPe, 1:07.84 Ln WKe SUeOLPs DnG 1:06.14 Ln WKe finDOs (UDnNeG seFonG Ln WKe US DnG 11WK in the world).

honkoly’s body may have changed but her in­de­fati­ga­ble spirit has re­mained the sDPe. SKe’s D figKWeU DnG D sur­vivor. And, as al­ways, she is a win­ner — a ded­i­cated ath­lete who re­fuses to give up.

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