Konkoly miraculously returns to the pool
Special to Montgomery
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 rniversity, 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 excessive heat in the room when the accident happened. She fell out the window and SOuPPHWHG fiYH VWRULHV WR WKH ground below.
Amazingly, she survived the fall.
“, IHOO fiYH VWRULHV DnG landed 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 doctors told him he’d nHYHU fiJKW DJDLn. AIWHU Dn 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 r.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 rSA 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 wDnWHG WR finG VRPHWKLnJ 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. 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 CincinnDWL DnG TuDOLfiHG IRU WKH 2012 rSA Paralympics Trials. With the Paralympics, swimming is divided into impairment groups — S1113 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 OHYHO 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
At the USA Paralympics Trials at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, .RnNRly finLsKHG Ds sLlvHU 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. 6KH WRRN sHFRnG Ln WKH finDls at 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 SUHlLPs DnG WKH finDls 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 finDls (UDnNHG second in the US and 11th in the world).
“The best race for me in North Dakota was the 100 PHWHU finDls,” sDLG .RnNRly, 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 sDPH. 6KH’s D fiJKWHU DnG D survivor. And, as always, she is a winner — a dedicated athlete who refuses to give up.
Pennridge’s Natalia Pinkney reverses direction on Wissahickon’s Bailey Weber as she jockeys for a shot during last season’s action.
Methacton graduate Michelle Konkoly.