Greendale - Just 10 months ago, Carolyn Jungers lay on the gym floor at Greendale's St. Alphonsus Middle School, feeling the pain of a torn anterior cruciate ligament as well as torn cartilage.
The injury was a particularly cruel blow to someone who had been swimming competitively since age 6 and had at one point been rated nationally in her age group in the breaststroke.
Now, though, she is a freshman standout on the Greendale High School girls swimming team, and she is back to consistently winning races and setting records.
Medical issue in infancy
That is nothing short of a remarkable recovery, but then again, Jungers is no stranger to facing, and overcoming, major adversity.
After all, as an infant, she had an intestine problem that could have killed her. Already in her 14 years, she has also dealt with a major bowel infection, bursitis of the hip and pneumonia, and each time she came back better than ever.
"Carolyn is a very dedicated, focused individual," said her mother Mary. "She is strong and diligent. She has been through a lot, but she has the gift to be resilient."
Those qualities served her well through all of her setbacks over the years, including the major injury from Dec. 2.
She was in eighth grade at St. Alphonsus and was playing a game in phy ed class that involved running back and forth on the court.
"My left foot went down into a plastic marker on the floor," Carolyn related, "and another person ran into me when my left foot was planted. My leg twisted, and I heard a popping sound."
Recovery starts with surgery
It turned out to be a torn ACL and cartilage, and her long road to recovery soon started.
About two weeks later, she began therapy to bring the swelling down and to strengthen her hamstring so she could have surgery.
On Dec. 30, she underwent a two-hour outpatient operation in which doctors used part of her hamstring as a graft for the ACL.
Jungers then started her rehabilitation program under orthopedic physician Carole Vetter and physical therapist Kay Chmielewski, both of Froedtert Sports Medicine Clinic.
"On the first day," Jungers said, "we worked out a game plan for the months ahead. We really worked together well. For the first 12 weeks, we worked on getting my quad strength up, because my cartilage had been ripped and sutured.
"After the 12 weeks, I was able to take a leg strength test, and I did well."
She and Chmielewski had physical therapy sessions twice a week for 30 minutes each, then once a week for an hour, and she exercised regularly at home.
"We worked on my hamstring with exercises, including a leg curl machine and deadlifting," Jungers said.
Heading back to the pool
The road back was difficult and demanding, but Jungers was driven by one thought: she was once rated second in the country for her 12-and-under age group in the breaststroke, and she badly wanted to get back to something approaching that level.
With that in mind, it was only a matter of time before she returned to the water.
About 12 weeks after the surgery, she could do the freestyle, butterfly and backstroke again, and about 20 weeks after the operation, she was doing the breaststroke.
"When I got in the water again, I was so happy," she said. "My club coach, Bob White Sr., kept saying, 'Take it easy, step by step.' I got stronger and stronger as I worked harder and harder."
Jungers finally resumed full-time practice in late May.
"It was a long road," she said. "My coaches, friends and family gave me positive feedback. This injury actually made me stronger mentally and physically. I know I can achieve anything, and I can keep a positive attitude even when things are going wrong."
Swimming as a Panther
Jungers joined the Greendale swimming team and has enjoyed a fabulous season so far.
She has won every individual race that she has entered with the Panthers as well as competing on winning relay teams, some of which include her older sister Kate, now a senior.
The highlight of the season so far came on Sept. 5 in a dual with New Berlin West, in which she broke a 33-year-old school and pool record in the 100 breaststroke with 1 minute, 8.82 seconds.
That same night, she won the 200 individual medley and helped the 200 medley relay team take first place.
Later in the season, against New Berlin Eisenhower, Carolyn missed the pool record in the 200 IM by just 0.4 of a second.
Her accomplishments so far have even taken her by surprise, as she admitted, "I never thought I would be back to 100 percent by this time."
Greendale head coach John Wilkinson does not share her surprise.
"Carolyn is one of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I have ever coached," Wilkinson said. "She works hard at every practice and I have never seen her back down from a challenging swim.
"Carolyn has so much talent and drive, it is no wonder she has won every individual race (this season). That is quite an accomplishment for someone who has come back from such a major injury."
Her mother Mary added, "She has worked extremely hard out of the water to regain her strength in the water."
Adversity all her life
Mary has known about Carolyn's inner resolve since her birth.
"She was born prematurely," Mary said, "and she had malrotation of the intestine at birth. We rushed her to Children's Hospital at seven weeks, and she almost died.
"Later, she had stomach problems, and it turned out she had an infection of the bowel, which led to another surgery when she was in the first grade. She then had pneumonia in fourth grade and bursitis of the hip in seventh grade.
"She had just gotten her rhythm back (for swimming) after the bursitis when she had the ACL injury last year."
Just like her doctors, coaches and teammates, Mary admires Carolyn's inner strength.
"She has faced many obstacles, but she's a fighter," Mary said. "She handled the situation in eighth grade like a freshman at college. She saw other swimmers on her club team get good times, and she knew there was a chance of her not swimming the breaststroke again, but she never gave up."
Carolyn Jungers of Greendale is part of a family with a strong tradition of swimming
MATT: Her brother competed at the WIAA Division 1 State Meet with the combined Greendale/Greenfield team, then went on to swim at the University of Wisconsin.
KATE: Her sister also competed on club teams when she was younger and is now on the Greendale High School team along with Carolyn.
NICK AND MARY: Her father and mother both swam on high school teams, and Mary also competed on the club level.
CAROLYN: "My parents wanted me to try swimming and see if I liked it. I had done other sports like running, soccer, basketball and tennis, but I liked swimming the most. It's different from other sports, because it is an individual sport. You rely on yourself and trust yourself. You can't be lifted or brought down by any teammates."