Konkoly mirac­u­lously back in pool

The Ambler Gazette - - OPINION - By Denny Dyroff

Spe­cial to Mont­gomery

Me­dia

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

Konkoly’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, Konkoly was at­tempt­ing to open a win­dow in her door room be­cause of ex- ces­sive heat in the room when the ac­ci­dent hap­pened. She fell out the win­dow and plum­meted fivH VWRULHV WR WKH JURunG bHORw. Amaz­ingly, she sur­vived the fall. “, IHOO fivH VWRULHV DnG ODnGed on my feet,” said Konkoly. “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 OK — 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 Konkoly would ever walk again. But, the spir­ited ath­lete showed that she is the swim­ming world’s ver­sion of Vin­nie Pazienza.

When Pazienza was

the ju­nior mid­dleweight world cham­pion, he suf­fered a bro­ken neck in a car crash and the docWRUV WROG KLP KH’G nHvHU fiJKW again. Af­ter an amaz­ing re­hab, Paz made one of box­ing’s most in­cred­i­ble come­backs when he re­turned to the ring for sev­eral PRUH WLWOH fiJKWV.

Konkoly 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 Konkoly, who was a 2010 run­ner-up 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 Hospi­tal). 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, Konkoly came very close to earn­ing a spot on the Team USA squad that headed to Lon­don ear­lier this month for the Par­a­lympics.

“Af­ter I got hurt, I thought about the Par­a­lympics,” said Konkoly, who was one of the top aca­demic students in her class at Methac­ton. “I wanted to finG VRPHWKLnJ Ln wKLFK , FRuOG be com­pet­i­tive and try to win.

“When I came back for spring break this year, my mom had talked to some Par­a­lympics coaches. So, 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, Konkoly de­cided to pur­sue the sport com­pet­i­tively again. She com­peted in the GTAC Dis­abil­ity Open in CLnFLn­nDWL DnG TuDOL­fiHG IRU the 2012 USA Par­a­lympics Tri­als. With the Par­a­lympics, swim­ming is di­vided into im­pair­ment groups — S11-13 for ath­letes with visual im­pair­ments, S1-10 for all other phys­i­cal im­pair­ments (lower num­ber rep­re­sents most se­vere) and S14 is for ath­letes with a learn­ing dis­abil­ity.

“I com­pete in the S9 cat­e­gory for freestyle events, my spe­cialty,” said Konkoly. “, wDV FODVVL­fiHG DV WKLV OHvHO due to weak­ness in my left leg from my spinal cord in­jury. Some other swimmers in this class have one leg am­pu­tated above the knee or one arm am­pu­tated be­low the el­bow.”

At the USA Par­a­lympics Tri­als at Bis­marck State Col­lege in North Dakota, .RnNROy finLVKHG DV VLOvHU medal­ist in three S9 events. In the 400-me­ter freestyle, she ar­rived with a 5:22.96 seed time and swam a 5:08.53 in the pre­lim­i­nar­ies. She took VHFRnG Ln WKH finDOV DW 5:05.59 to rank sec­ond in the U.S. and 14th in the world.

Konkoly’s seed time in the 50 free was 32.30 and she clocked a 31.10 in both WKH SUHOLPV DnG WKH finDOV to rank sec­ond in the U.S. and 15th in the world. Her best drop came in the 100 free — 1:08.86 as seed time, 1:07.84 in the pre­lims and 1:06.14 Ln WKH finDOV (UDnNHG sec­ond in the US and 11th in the world).

“The best race for me in North Dakota was the 100 PHWHU finDOV,” VDLG .RnNROy, who is ma­jor­ing in bi­ol­ogy as part of a pre-med pro­gram at Ge­orge­town. “The time I swam was to­tally un­ex­pected.

“My starts are good. They’ve been im­prov­ing a lot. But, it took me al­most 10 months to start us­ing my kick. I had to re­learn how to swim be­cause I have a dif­fer­ent body now. I’ve got­ten a lot stronger.”

Konkoly’s body may have changed but her in­de­fati­ga­ble spirit has re­mained the same. 6KH’V D fiJKWHU DnG D VuUvLvRU. And, as al­ways, she is a win­ner — a ded­i­cated ath­lete who re­fuses to give up.

Photo cour­tesy Ge­orge­town Univer­sity

Methac­ton grad­u­ate Michelle Konkoly.

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