Addy Ferguson had a difficult journey to her final conference championship

The Journey of Addy Ferguson

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It’s a culmination of four years. It ties together 15 years of what started as a fun, summer-time sport but turned into life and always will be.

For most seniors, their conference-championship meet is supposed to bring a feeling of accomplishment as everything they did comes together.

Ohio’s Addy Ferguson entered her senior season unsure if she’d get to experience that feeling — or even want to.

She didn’t know if she would have the chance to close out her career defined by times of growth and glory.

“I came to Ohio (University) not expected to contribute,” Ferguson said. “I have worked my butt off to get where I am, and I’m super proud of myself and the team.”

In her first year, she earned first team All-MAC and was conference champion in the 100-yard backstroke. The team awarded her the Fletcher Gilders Memorial Award for most improved student-athlete.

Ferguson hugs a teammate after placing 2nd in the 100 fly at the 2016 MAC Championships
Ferguson hugs a teammate after placing 2nd in the 100 fly at the 2016 MAC Championships

She continued to improve the next year when she also dominated the 100 butterfly, winning the conference and qualifying for the NCAA Championships, where she placed 57th in 100 fly and 38th in 100 back. In her first three years, Ferguson won five of a possible six MAC titles in the two events.

[Ferguson suits up for NCAA Championships]

Before she could fight for more MAC titles this year, she had to make an unexpected decision.

“I’m not doing well.”

Ferguson didn’t hit her time goals at the 2015 MAC Championships, and injuries got in the way.

After having the labrum in her right shoulder repaired in April of 2014, she got back in the water too quickly during her junior year. Both her right shoulder, now with three anchors in it, and her left shoulder hurt.

Doctors think the labrum in each of her shoulders may be torn. The doctor told Ferguson he wouldn’t touch them until her swimming career was over.

Further stress on her shoulders wouldn’t cause damage. It would just cause more pain.

“It was super hard to motivate myself,” Ferguson said. “I was like, ‘I’m a part of the team, but I’m not doing anything that they’re doing, and I’m in pain; I’m not doing well.’ ”

Ferguson took the summer off to rest her shoulders and figure out her plan for senior year. When she came back to Athens, Ferguson’s plan was not to swim, but she wasn’t committed to the decision.

One day, she wouldn’t want anything to do with it. The next, she’d be back in the water.

Ferguson fully focused on swimming her freshman year of high school. Her club coach told her if she wanted to be excellent at something, she needed to make it her priority.

Six MAC titles and a trip to NCAA Championships later, Ferguson wondered if it would be worth the pain and stress to maybe make it through one more year.

Maybe swim at conference championships.

“It was super back and forth; It was mentally exhausting on everyone,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think I went a night without crying,”

In late September, she sat down with coach Rachel Komisarz-Baugh. The two had a ‘do it or don’t’ conversation to figure out Ferguson’s decision before she fell too far behind in training.

“It kind of hit me. I have one shot. I might as well try.” 

“Trying” to swim her senior year, after a frustrating previous season and with what could be two torn labra, would be completely different.

Ferguson’s primary strokes, backstroke and butterfly, place the most stress on the shoulders. The comeback process that she had done once before was unsuccessful, and now it would be tougher.

The season wouldn’t just be different for her. The program had to adjust.

Ferguson wanted to be there as much as she could. She wanted her team to see she was contributing in every way possible, but that effort wasn’t always noticed as well as Ferguson hoped.

Teammates watched as Ferguson was frustrated by her junior-year MAC performance. Ferguson didn’t hit her time goals, but she still won two events and broke the team record in the 200-medley relay.

“I feel like it kind of put a negative feel on everything,” she said.

At the beginning of the season, Ferguson met with the team and told them how this season would be different. The team understood and it helped the season go much smoother for Ferguson, who still didn’t feel fully back in place.

Ferguson possibly swam her senior season with two torn labra in her shoulders. She won’t know for sure until she gets an MRI after the season.

It took a week or so before she had an ‘all-in’ feeling.

Ohio typically has two practices a day six days of the week. Ferguson didn’t ‘double’ until after winter break. The limitations, the adjustments helped Ferguson’s muscles, but not her confidence in the water.

“I’m going to do it, and that’s that.”

The Bobcats travelled to Coral Springs, Florida for one week over winter break. Training trips often include intense workouts and are the hump of the season.

[Winter Training Crucial to Bobcats’ Success]

Ferguson didn’t do a full day of practice all season, and she still didn’t know if she would make it through the rest of the season.

20 x 150 backstroke

Three-thousand yards of backstroke were too much for Ferguson. She’d likely have to sit out and ice her shoulders before the set was over.

“I did them all and it was just great,” Ferguson said. “I was actually able to stay in the pool and do it.” She made it over the hump.

Ferguson fought through six months of being limited to primarily biking and kicking, having to skip entire practices, and doing different workouts.

Now, she was a swimmer again. She was a part of the team.

“After winter training it’s like ‘you’re on the down; you’re ready to go,” she said as she regained confidence less than two months before MAC Championships.

“I’m not gonna have anything like this ever again”

The six-time MAC Champion entered her final meet with more pressure on her shoulders but less pressure on her mind than in previous years.

“Coming in I was kinda like, ‘I’m here; I’m going to be done in however long, so I’m just going to swim,” she said. “Whatever happens, happens.”

Rather than going out on top, Ferguson was determined to swim and do all she could. That was, after all, the original plan.

“In all reality, for Addy to get to this point of the season is a victory in itself,” Komisarz-Baugh said. “I really couldn’t have asked anything more from her.”

Ferguson, instead, continued to the demonstrate the same traits of a true champion that gripped MAC Championship spectators for three years.

She started her slate of individual events Thursday by getting a best time in 50 freestyle. She placed 10th with a time of 23.20 seconds.

The next day, Ferguson swam her best two events. But Friday didn’t start the same way. Ferguson earned the seventh seed for finals in the 100 back. The conference record holder would swim her final race from the outside lane.

After a near come-from-behind win and second-place finish in the 100 fly, Ferguson walked from the staging area to the blocks one last time.

“Come on this is your last hundred back ever,” she said. “Let’s go.”

Ferguson only remembered the start and the finish. All she took away was hitting the wall one last time.

“I cried after backstroke and I was like ‘I’m done,’ ” she said. “Im not going to have anything like this ever again.”

She didn’t go out with a win, but second place and .1 seconds away from her best time were success, considering where she was eight months prior. The adrenaline of a final race erases the pain and the ‘supposed to’ of the moment.

“I don’t think it felt like a win, but I don’t think it felt bad at all,” Ferguson said. “I wasn’t planning on swimming my senior year, so I think it’s just an accomplishment to be here today.”

Ferguson didn’t spend the final meet of her swimming career at the top of the podium. She met her goals and enjoyed her final moments as a swimmer.

Ohio swimmers and divers cheer at the 2016 MAC Championships
Ohio swimmers and divers cheer at the 2016 MAC Championships

On the final day of MAC Championships, Ferguson didn’t swim. She spent the meet on the side of the pool, cheering for her teammates.

“I got more excited for their races than my own,” she said.

[Freshman swimmers making an impact]

After so many years of winning and losing, athletes can’t help but connect with others in the same strong moments they knew and feel the triumph and pain.

Addy Ferguson’s career as a swimmer is over, but her experience isn’t complete. She plans to coach at Gilmour Academy in Cleveland.

“I’ll still be swimming,” she said, “just not in the water.”