GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There is no way to fully comprehend the depths of the dark valleys through which Purdue swimmer Emily Fogle has traveled the last couple of years.
It’s that journey that made even dipping her toe in the pool here at the NCAA Division I women’s swimming national championships a victory of monumental proportions. She had multiple surgeries, yes, but countless athletes have surgeries virtually every day. There’s more to her story. So much more.
Surgeries happen in sports and they happen all the time, but for an elite student-athlete at the Division I level, it can be utterly devastating. It was for Fogle. That was the first valley.
There would be others.
There was no specific incident to which she could point as the culprit for all her -- she’d been told that it was just the way her bones had been formed from birth, combined with the stress placed on them by an intense sport like swimming.
“I can’t exactly put it into words, because it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through,” begins Fogle, who’ll compete in the 200 breaststroke. “I had never experienced that kind of loss before. At the time, my sport, swimming, was my identity.
“So you take that away from me right in the midst of doing decently well, coming off a pretty good season, and then all of a sudden, you can’t swim any more. That is a huge toll. I honestly didn’t know how to take it.”
Not only could Fogle not compete, she couldn’t even so much as get in the water to splash around a bit. The pool had always been her comfort zone, and now even that was gone. As bizarre as it might seem, however, that would’ve been truly joyous news had it been the only roadblock that would come to face Fogle.
Weeks after that second hip procedure, her world was again upended. Susan Fogle, Emily’s mother, died on April 16, 2013.
“It was right in the midst of my recovery from my hip,” Fogle says. “Not that there would be a good timing for that, but that would probably be the worst. I lost my sport, I lost my identity and I lost my mom. The amount of grief and hopelessness was indescribable. I honestly didn’t know what to do. It was an extremely difficult time.”
That Fogle’s situation could ever get worse than losing her sport and her mother is testament to just how deep her hurt eventually became. How is such a thing even possible? It could get worse, and it did in the form of the monstrous disease anorexia.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, anorexia is the third-most common chronic illness and adolescents. Even more startling is the fact that the mortality rate for those with the disease is twelve times higher than “the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.”
Fogle stopped eating and by June of 2013, she was hospitalized after losing some fifty pounds. Yet another arthroscopic procedure on her left hip came in January 2014. How much can any one person endure and still come out on the other side?
She balks at the suggestion, but the fact that she’s here this week is nothing short of an outright miracle.
“I had to not only gain weight back, but also gain a healthy mindset back as well,” Fogle says. “More than just recovering from hip surgery, being of weight and being in a healthy mindset has been something that has gotten me to the national championships.”
Her Purdue coaches and teammates have rallied around her, and she singles out assistant athletic trainer Stephanie Leech as being especially helpful in her recovery from the surgeries. Her dad, David, though … he’s been through it all.
“I just have grown incredibly close to him these last few years,” Fogle says. “He’s now one of my best friends. He really helped me after my mom passed, and likewise with my sister Sarah.”
Questionnaires are often included on school websites, asking student-athletes such questions as what’s on their MP3 player, last concert attended and so forth. Purdue asks which people they’d most like to have dinner with, and Fogle’s answer is this.
Nothing and no one can ever replace Susan, but Fogle’s hips can heal and she continue to fight the good fight against a deadly disease like anorexia. That’s what truly counts. That’s all that really matters, national championships or no national championships.
“In the past, I’ve tended to put a lot of pressure on myself,” she concludes. “A lot of anxiety has come off of that. With everything that has happened, I’ve learned to just be grateful for the fact that I’m in the water again and be happy with me doing the sport.”