Ress' Injury Won't Keep Him From His Goals
March 22, 2011
by Melanie Schneider
For Indiana University sophomore swimmer Eric Ress, it has been an unexpectedly long road back to Minneapolis and the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. And the road took its unexpected twist because something that happened in that very pool just four weeks ago
Ress accepted his 100 backstroke gold medal with a heavily taped right hand on the second to last night of the Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships in Minneapolis after setting a new Big Ten meet record with a time of 45.11
"What we work on a lot in practice is the finish and making sure you go into the wall as hard as you can," Ress said. "I didn't think I was going any harder, but I guess I misjudged the wall and the contact was direct. I pretty much knew instantly I either broke something or tore something in my hand."
But Ress still had one more race to swim and it is his specialty -- the 200 backstroke. A fierce competitor, Ress did actually contemplate pulling out of the race.
"After the race I tried to get in the pool and warm down, I couldn't move my hand in the water," Ress said. "I told myself I probably wouldn't be able to swim tomorrow."
But Ress also knew that the final day was one of IU's strongest chances to pick up points, and with the defending Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes just a few points back of the second-place Hoosiers, he knew every point would count.
"I was dead-set on not swimming for about a half an hour when my hand was really swelling up," Ress said. "Ray was pretty realistic about it and he prepared the team that I was not going to be able to swim. He supported whatever decision I made.
"The one person that really set me over the edge and made me decide to swim was diver David Piercy. He sent me a text saying he saw about my hand and hoped I felt better, but he hoped I was good by the next day because the team really needs me. Then about 15 minutes later I heard that David was going to dive platform the next day after not having done platform since his freshman year after an injury. When I heard he was going to do this to help the team get more points, I said `I need to swim regardless.' I don't want to be sitting in my room back in Bloomington three weeks down the road saying I really wish I had done that 200 backstroke."
The next day he warmed up and finished fifth in the 200 backstroke prelims with that same hand still heavily bandaged. That night he added his name to the IU records list yet again, posting the fourth-fastest time in school history in the event and finishing second overall, just 2/10ths of a second out of first.
What had yet to be confirmed by doctors was the sophomore was indeed swimming with a broken hand. And yet it didn't stop him from putting up one of the most impressive Big Ten Championships performances by an IU swimmer in recent years.
After returning to Bloomington, Ress found out he had broken the third metacarpal bone in his right hand. Since the diagnosis he has been wearing a splint on his hand made of a hard plastic material. According to the doctors, as long as he is wearing the splint he can pretty much do what he would normally do. His only limits are dealing with the pain.
And while you would think a hand injury would not have a huge affect on a swimmer's training, Ress explains that he has had to alter his training regimen quite a bit due to the injury.
"The first couple of days I was pretty much kicking the whole time," Ress said. "I wasn't pulling that much and wasn't able to do anything `normal.' I came from a knee injury last year where I was able to pull and use my arms and go the whole practice with the team. When you are kicking you can't really kick a whole practice with the team because it is so much slower and your leg muscles get tired easily.
"For the first three days I was kicking, then I was able to incorporate some of the paddles which helped. After a week I had a big breakthrough in my training where it was one of the first days I didn't really feel a lot of pain when I swim with the brace and without it. It is healing pretty fast, but I am trying to be cautious not to hurt it more."
With just three weeks in between the Big Ten and NCAA championships, it was a fear from both Ress and the coaches that this injury could derail his bid to become IU's first men's national champion since Ben Hesen in 2008. But the hard-working Ress feels that his early-season training makes this injury just a minor setback.
"I definitely think the body of work I have put in, even carrying over to last summer, has really prepared me well," Ress said. "The work I put in with aerobic training and general conditioning has really made it so that if there is a time of the year for me to get hurt, this is probably best. The time between Big Tens and NCAA's, you work hard but it is so short that you are really not able to get that high up in volume and you are not able to really put in that much more hard work than you already have. It allows me to put emphasis on things I which I normally don't focus as much."
In addition to overcoming the injury, Ress also knows that all eyes will be on him as the top seed in the 100 backstroke. Ress enters the NCAA meet with a time of 45.11 and is close to joining an elite group of swimmers who have gone under 45 seconds in the race.
"I have seen people in the past go into this meet as the top seed and not do well," Ress said. "I have been in a fair amount of meets where I've been a pretty high seed but I have never been a top seed at such a high-profile meet. But I am so aware of the competition at this meet and what other people have been doing that I am not going to be complacent. I know going into this meet, especially with what happened to my hand, I am going to have to be on-point in prelims to make it back."
It has been quite a year for Ress since redshirting the 2009-10 season after injuring his knee in late 2009. He continued to work in the pool during the redshirt season and in April 2010 he won the French long course national title in the 200 backstroke, earning a spot on the national team for the European Championships in August 2010. He would finish eighth in the 200-meter backstroke at the European meet, setting up what has been a strong sophomore season.
"I went into the French national meet not doing a taper that I was used to, but I told myself I really have nothing to lose," Ress said. "The first day of the meet were my off events, and I did well in those. And then I qualified for European Nationals on the last day. Being on the national A team as opposed to junior teams was such a great experience."
It should be no surprise that Ress, a dual French-American citizen, has found such success in the pool. His father, Colin, swam at Indiana from 1975-76 and 78-79, and represented his native France at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Continuing the family lines his sister, Justine, will begin her collegiate swimming career at IU this fall. But even with the outside forces, it is a strong internal drive that has helped Ress reach new heights in the pool.
"I don't really stand out in any way," Ress said. "I am not tall. I am not necessarily very strong. I may not be those things, but I really like racing and getting into the mindset of a championship meet. I really don't like losing and I think that is one of the biggest things that has helped me."
In addition to the NCAA meet, where Ress will swim the 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke, 200 individual medley, 400 medley relay and 800 freestyle relay, the sophomore has a busy next 18 months as 2012 is an Olympic year. Unfortunately for Ress, the French national meet this year coincides with the NCAA Championships, so he will be unable to defend his title. However, his recent success leave open the possibility of representing France at the Olympic Games next summer in London.
"I am going to take it all day by day and see what opportunities are going to arise," Ress said. "Next year, for Olympic Trials, that is still pretty far away so I am not making any set plans as to how I am going to handle training for that or what meets I am going to go to in preparation for it. I find when I try to plan to far in advance it takes away from what I am doing now.
"It is most swimmers' dream to make the Olympics but after the success I have had swimming in college and on the French team I am not going to let that define what type of swimmer I am. I am having so much fun competing with my teammates here that I am a lot less stressed when it comes to thinking about making other national teams. I am living more in the now and enjoying the college experience. My dad swam (at IU) and in the Olympic for France and he told me he would have much rather contributed a little more to the IU team than he did and I am starting to see more where he is coming from. It is one thing to be a good swimmer individually, but being part of a championship team and being part of a team that is going places is a lot more gratifying."
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