Honkoly’s miraculously back in pool
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.