Lindsey Sohoel-Smith fell off the blocks and into the water as she leaned in for her first race back from back surgery.
She got back up and, after a restart, she plunged in and finished somewhere in the middle of the pack.
But it was her first victory in what was a long, painful journey back to the pool.
Now the Tucson Tanque Verde High School senior swimmer hopes her story can help others who walk around with poor self-esteem, who feel they have nobody to talk to, who live in pain with scoliosis.
Sohoel-Smith missed her junior year after undergoing a four-hour surgery in Phoenix for severe scoliosis that was causing pain in her intestinal area and making it hard to breathe.
Her comeback was painful, lonely, agonizing. Muscles were ripped. Nerves were cut. Two metal rods were inserted. A scar, which she refers to as her “warrior wound,” runs straight down her back from the top of her spine to the bottom.
“It’s like those four hours change your life,” Sohoel-Smith said. “I think it’s more like at meets, people will come up to me, or parents, and talk to me about it. I love that.
“I know what I was going through. It was heart-breaking. I feel like I had no one to talk to. I don’t want anyone to feel that way. Everyone is so different. I tell them that they’ll be OK. You just have to be mentally encouraging. I know some of my teammates were like, ‘I know this girl got it done and it took a year.’ That’s kind of discouraging, but at the same time it is encouraging. The discouraging part took a year. You don’t want it to take that long.”