A story ran in last Thursday’s Missoulian about two local prep swimmers Kate Zimmer and Hailey Jacobson who’ve committed to big-time colleges to continue their sporting careers.
But there was some interesting background on Zimmer, a Big Sky and Missoula Aquatic Club swimmer, that didn’t quite fit the narrative of that piece. Zimmer, an accomplished pool sprinter who’ll compete at LSU next year, nearly had her favorite sport taken away from her.
She developed a pair of bulging disks in the lumbar section of her back as a freshman that took her out of the water completely.
Zimmer, a year-round swimmer with MAC since age 9, started feeling the pain in her lower back leading into her freshman year. Three days before her first Nationals that fall, an MRI diagnosed the problem.
A bulging disk, sometimes called a herniated disk, is caused when a tear in the ring of an intervertebral disk allows some of the vertebrae’s cushion to bulge out beyond its normal position. The bulge increases pressure on nerves at the affected area and along with it comes nasty back pain and sometimes numbness in the extremities.
The condition is typically caused by degeneration or wear and tear, but in Zimmer’s case was likely strain or trauma induced.
Zimmer took spinal steroid injections to strengthen the area while she competed at the national event and through the season, hoping things would improve. When they didn’t she was forced to sit out her entire sophomore season.
“It was like part of my life was taken away,” she remembers.
When she came back the next summer, the pain was gone, but so was much of her skill set.
“I swam that next summer after sophomore year and wasn’t good at all,” Zimmer said. “It was just for getting back in shape.”
Zimmer, who still does yoga stretches as continued back-strengthening exercise, has done well for herself since then. Most recently she competed at Junior Natinonals in North Carolina with MAC in December, even setting a few Montana state records.
The whole process was painful physically and emotionally, but Zimmer says it’s made her a better competitor.
“It made me mature a lot and made me stronger as a swimmer,” she started. “I’m just happy that small sample size was enough for colleges to see me.”
Apparently so. She signed her Letter of Intent to LSU back in November.