Heart of a Panther
Drury’s Yu overcomes devastating injury in just weeks
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- No, not the knee. Not this close to the Festival. This can’t be happening.
Less than a month ago, Drury University swimmer Drury’s world came crashing down around her. While preparing for the NCAA Division II Winter National Championships Festival, Yu was running steps for conditioning when she felt her left knee give way. She crumpled to the ground, her anterior cruciate ligament completely torn.
Call it ferocious determination or an outright miracle, but Yu not only made it to Birmingham, but the Drury sophomore helped the Panthers take a first-day lead in team competition. She finished fifth in the 50-meter freestyle event, and then anchored the squad in a sixth-place effort in the 200-meter medley relay.
Amazing. Simply, utterly, absolutely amazing.
The accomplishment is all the more impressive considering the rich heritage of Drury’s women’s swimming team. Yu isn’t swimming for some rag-tag bunch of underdog misfits. Drury boasts three of the past four team national championships, four of the past six and eight altogether since head coach Brian Reynolds took over the program.
“I was really disappointed and frustrated at the fact that it was so close to nationals, and I might not be able to swim,” said Yu, called “Janet” by her teammates. “At the beginning, it hurt so bad that I couldn’t even walk. The doctor told me there wasn’t really a high chance that I could swim or compete.”
She couldn’t dog paddle with an injury like that, much less swim competitively against an elite field like what she and the rest of her teammates would face at the Festival. Just like that, her season was over.
Or maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t. After just five days or so, Yu ditched her crutches. The injury was bad, of course, and she’s slated for surgery on March 21. Reynolds was close to pulling the plug, but decided to hold off after talking with the team’s trainer and an orthopedic surgeon.
The surgeon, a good friend of Reynolds’, told him that there was a 1 percent chance Yu could pull it off and swim. That was good enough for them. Just two days after the injury, Yu was in the water and has returned every day since then.
“She’s just a very strong young lady,” said Reynolds, who is in his 24th season as the head coach of the women’s swim team at Drury and 29th overall at the school. “Most people, this would just put them out. We went through the emotional roller-coaster, and I just have to say how brave she is to continue to pursue this.”
As the possibility of overcoming the injury became more real, her parents, who live in Hong Kong, weighed in. They’re parents, and they’re concerned about their daughter. The decision to proceed, however, was all hers.
“They are really worried about me,” Yu admitted. “Parents always worry about their kids when they’re not next to them. I understand how worried they are, because they can’t see. They don’t know how bad it is. It’s not the end of the world.
“They said, ‘Do what you think is right. Do not push yourself too much.’ [My mom's] happy to see how I treat my injury, not crying all day or being frustrated for three weeks. I’m staying positive.”
After the first day of competition Wednesday, Drury took a 30-point lead in team competition against Wingate University. In her 50-mile freestyle race, Yu finished in 23.38 seconds -- just off the 23.05-second effort she turned in during a pre-national event.
“I really want to get into the finals and get some points for Drury,” Yu said. “That’s all I’m swimming for. I want to see how fast I can go, but I’m not going to put pressure on myself like, ‘I have to get in the top three or top five. But I just really want to at least get some points for Drury. I’ll try my best.”
Her best? Considering what she went through to get here, her best is quite impressive indeed.