Whitewater freshman overcomes spine surgery, excels as a swimmer

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012
— Many tests can measure an athlete’s physical prowess, but a stopwatch cannot measure his heart.

Forrest Spear, a 14-year-old Whitewater High School freshman swimmer, is all about heart.

Born with congenital scoliosis, Spear had a titanium rod surgically inserted Feb. 12, 2008, to correct his curved spine.

“It was risky,” Forrest’s mother, Ann, said of the five-hour surgery. “There was the chance of paralysis.’’

Spear missed six weeks of school and wore a back brace for several months.

“He had to stretch and try to move again,” Ann said. “He had to get up and move around.’’

Spear endured the rigors of physical therapy with a smile.

“My physical therapist said, ‘Everybody else frowns at me, and you smile,’” Spear said.

Swimming was ideal for Spear’s rehabilitation, but he was not a fan of the water.

“Forrest was always kind of afraid of the water,” Ann said. “We had to force him into swimming lessons.’’

Spear overcame his fear last summer.

“He really did well,” Ann said. “He improved with each lesson.’’

Spear’s physical therapist recommended Spear join the high school swim team.

“I just decided it would be neat,” Spear said. “I thought it would be a good way to stay fit through the winter.’’

Spear discovered competitive swimming has more rewards than keeping fit.

“When you go to your first meet, it’s how much support you get from the team and how great it feels when you first dive in,’’ said Spear, who gives credit to his mom, sister Sage, brothers Slate and Hunter and his father, Tom, for their support. “And when you’re going, it just feels awesome.’’

Whitewater coach Joan Domitrz said Spear is a real “find.”

“He is very coachable,” Domitrz said. “He wants to get better. He has one of the best breaststroke pullouts on our team.’’

Domitrz said Spear has an over-the-top positive attitude.

“No matter what is going on, he smiles,” Domitrz said. “I have not seen that young man in a bad mood.’’

Spears could not do the breaststroke last summer. He relied on frogs for help.

“I couldn’t do it all,” Spear said. “(The breaststroke) sort of reminded me how a frog swims, and I just adapted off of that.’’

Spear’s best time in the 100 breaststroke is 1 minute, 35.1 seconds last Tuesday against Burlington, but he has his sights set on better times.

“I want to get down to at least 1:20 this year,” said Spear, who began the season with a 1:43 in November against Milton. “Hopefully, I can beat the school record of 1:10 some day.’’

Sophomore Zach Murphy and junior Cody Fiedler, Whitewater’s top varsity breaststrokers, laud Spear’s breaststroke acumen.

“He has a really nice stroke,” Fiedler said. “I think if he could work a little bit more on just the strength of it, he’ll get better.

“He is catching up to me and Zach.’’

“He has a better stroke than me, for sure,” Murphy added.

Fiedler admires Spear’s desire to succeed in a sport he never tried until last summer.

“I’m amazed,” Fiedler said. “He’s one of those kids that even when he had a large setback with that metal rod in his back, he is able to push through it and try and become the best swimmer that we have.’’

Spear’s success is not measured just by improvement in the pool.

“It’s neat to try and challenge yourself instead of doing easy things and continue with your life that way,” Spear said.

Last updated: 7:18 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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