Maybe Alexis Shollenberger didn’t plan it this way, but she has a special appreciation for how precious time really is.
She doesn’t spend it wondering what might have been, or why things turned out this way. Not anymore. Because what matters now is where she’s going from here.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but I know it’s going to be good,” the Millersville University swimmer said Tuesday on the eve of her second PSAC championship meet. She was right from the start, because she’d already won another battle with a foe she’s been fighting for about six years.
As a Wilson High sophomore, she was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Trachycardia Syndrome (POTS). To put it simply, whenever she’s upright, her blood pools and forces her heart to work much harder than normal. She actually began feeling the symptoms — dizziness, headaches, nausea and fatigue, among others — a year earlier.
It’s an ailment that can be controlled — Shollenberger takes several meds, three times a day — but not cured, at least not at present. “It’s so hard to diagnose,” she said. “It usually gets mistaken for ADHD.”
Shollenberger had to give up other sports like track and water polo, but she gained control over POTS and swam well enough as a Wilson junior to attract Division I interest. But a year later, there were new adversities.
She missed time early in her senior year to have a melanoma removed, then was hospitalized twice for a neurovirus. Finally, she tore her right labrum while swimming — in part, overcompensating for POTS, she said.
That was enough to send the D-I recruiters elsewhere, and to leave Shollenberger wondering, “what now?” The one thing she knew, though, was that she didn’t want to stop swimming.
“You wonder why you keep getting forced to face these obstacles,” she said. “I kind of just realized at some point that we’re all going to face obstacles in the long run, and maybe all of mine are right now, but I can deal with them. It’s not the end of the world.”
Three months of physical therapy helped her heal, and she decided MU was the right fit. Mentally, however, Shollenberger still had work to do.
“I’d get up to the block and I didn’t want to go as fast as possible, because I didn’t want to tear the labrum,” she said.
All of that changed a year ago, when she qualified for the PSAC meet. Knowing it was the end of her season, Shollenberger pushed herself harder and hit times she hadn’t matched in years. Since then, she’s had all the confidence anyone could need.
She planned to celebrate this week by dropping her times — in the 50 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke — while also helping on several relays. She’s followed through with her MU career-best (25.36) in the 50 free and a season-best 1:00.47 in the 100 back, with the 200 back remaining Saturday.
Day-to-day life still has its challenges. Shollenberger can tell when her meds are wearing off, just because she slows down. “There’s a small amount of time when I’m productive,’’ she said. But what she feels most is gratitude for all the support she’s received from her family and teammates.
“Our team is so small, we’re very close-knit,” she said. “And they’ve all gone through shoulder injuries, so for them to share their stories with me … is really helpful.”
Shollenberger wants to pass that support along to other POTS patients. In part, that’s why she’s majoring in biology with her sights on the medical profession.
No doubt she’ll help her patients understand the value of looking forward.
• Connect with Jeff Young, a former LNP sports editor, at email@example.com.