Elizabeth White has a 32 degree spinal curve, but never drifts to the right when breaking Riverdale High swim records.
She has physical therapy daily, but in the pool is where her body truly thrives. For half of her life, she’s been battling back pain the mediocre athlete wouldn’t handle.
White may have scoliosis, a side-to-side curvature of the spine, but she’s also allergic to average.
“The way my back is curved, one side of my muscle is higher than the other,” White said. “You can’t tell, it’s not really noticeable unless you look at it. But, one of my hips is higher than the other.”
This backbone-bending condition crept up on White at age 8. Now a 16-year-old sophomore who will compete for a state championship, she says her focus is winning the 100-yard breaststroke today–not the pain shooting up her back.
“When I swim, it takes the pressure off my back,” said White, who danced before her diagnosis but moved to swimming to strengthen her back muscles. “Because it’s not as hard on the muscle as it is if I were playing soccer or some other sport.”
Heating pads, ice packs and Styrofoam back-rollers are used to help alleviate the pain. Swim practice regimens are slightly different than her teammates because of the condition. Dry land workouts put stress on her back, but head coach Pam Berry said her determination to keep working has made life easier for everyone.
“There were things that we would do that hurt her back and she would let us know,” said Berry, whose been coaching the Raiders for “20 something” years. “She didn’t just not do anything. We would give her something else to do and it was pretty intense this year.”
This season proved to be White’s coming out party, but as a freshman she began to make noise. The Riverdale breaststroke record use to be a minute and 13 seconds. Berry showed White the time and with a poker face she uttered, “I can do it.”
“I didn’t let her swim the breaststroke against any of the slower teams,” Berry said. “I waited until we swam Estero. She shocked everyone. She broke the record and did 1:10. She broke it a few more times after that.”
White placed second at the District 3A-9 meet in 1:09.46, just behind Fort Myers’ Sydney McMurray’s 1:09.42. She followed that up last week with another second in the Region 3A-3 meet with a time of 1:08.20. And she accomplished that despite skidding off the starting blocks and banging her foot, which led to a swollen foot.
“I didn’t expect the block to be slippery,” said White, who enters the state meet seeded seventh in the event. “This was my last event. I didn’t think about drying it off or anything. Somehow I just slipped and banged my ankle.”
White isn’t the only sophomore making waves on the swim circuit. Fort Myers swimmers Kendall Brent, Sam Hurley and Alex Griffith, along with senior Jessica Hurley, all have a true shot at leaving Stuart a victor.
“Kendall has an excellent chance at both titles in the 200 free and the 500 free,” said Susan Postma, the Fort Myers head coach. “She has been training very consistently and working hard so she should taper well and drop time. She is pumped and ready to go. Kendall is also part of our 400 free relay team and is excited to compete.”
White is aware of the other swimmers in town, but is steadfast on her goal. Berry says kicking her legs like a frog lunging for a lily pad makes it easier for White to shave time. This, combined with her sometimes too-competitive nature, always gives her an edge in the water.
It doesn’t stop her mom, Lorri Burson, from shaking in her seat.
“I get sick when I watch her swim,” Burson said. “I just get so nervous. I just want her to swim as well as she can. She gets so hard on herself. She’s very competitive. It worries me that when she doesn’t win, she’s not fun to live with.”
Burson won’t have to worry for long. A couple years and White’s off to college. The University of Auburn is at the top of the list, though she has a love for “The Swamp.” She drives an orange Jeep with a Gator license plate.
Coming from a family of Florida Gator fans and a school principal who graduated from UF, Auburn has been a hard pill to swallow. When asked about the school decision, her dad Mark somberly spoke four words.
“We’re hurting. We’re reeling.”