Swimmer Franziska Hauptmann continues to persevere despite adversity
By Luke Rinne, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
Perseverance is defined as being persistent in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. For University of Missouri–St. Louis women’s swimming senior Franziska Hauptmann, perseverance and resilience have shaped her final season as a Triton.
After earning All-America honors as part of the 200-yard freestyle relay team last spring, Hauptmann, a native of Gifhorn, Germany, had several goals heading into her final season at UMSL. Not only did she want to make it back to the national meet as part of a relay, but she also had visions of qualifying in individual events as well.
Hauptmann’s season got off to a great start as she won three races in her first two competitions before her season was sidetracked after she was involved in a hit-and-run accident while riding her bicycle on the way to practice at the Mark Twain Athletic Center on the morning of Oct. 17.
She was riding down University Boulevard in the left-hand lane getting ready to turn onto University Place when she was struck from behind by a car, was thrown from her bike and landed on the curb. Hauptmann suffered a concussion, a shoulder injury and a compression fracture in her lower back of her L3 vertebrae. She was taken to Barnes-Jewish Hospital where she spent the day before being released and stayed with the parents of one her teammates while she recovered.
“I had a great start into my season, and it was going really well,” Hauptmann said. “I was close to my dual meet best times that I swam last year, so I was like, ‘All right, it’s going to be a great season.’ Then two days later, I was in the accident and everything went down. I started to think about if I should try to swim again.
“Those were the types of conversations I had with my friends, my family and my coaches, and I tried it again, but it’s had its ups and downs. I still have back pain and don’t know if it will ever go away.”
“Everything was going according to plan,” UMSL men’s and women’s swimming head coach Tony Hernandez said. “After the accident happened it was in the back of my mind that she’s never going to swim again and that was a heartbreaking loss for her. No one loved swimming more than Franzi, and that was hard for her initially because that’s what she kept asking about when she was in the hospital was, ‘Was she going to be able to swim again?’”
Her road back to swimming has been a difficult one. She said her first week after the accident she could barely walk, was on morphine and found it painful to do anything, but then by the second week she got back in the water. She was able to start swimming by the end of that week and found that swimming helped, and her back wasn’t hurting as much. Everyone was surprised by that as the doctors in the hospital originally gave her three to six months to recover from the injuries.
While the physical part of her comeback was hard, Hauptmann found the mental aspect of it to be even harder.
“When you have a setback, you have to fight your own body,” she said. “You’re not sure if the pain you’re experiencing is muscular or nerve pain. All you know is that it’s not bone pain, and you must try and push through it. That has been the hardest part.
“It was hard to see my teammates compete. You want to be out there with them, but you know you can’t.”
“Initially, I thought her career was done, and then the adjusted timeline was she would be able to start training again in December,” Hernandez said. “A week later, she was out of the hospital, and I showed up to Mark Twain and she’s walking in the pool. Being in the water helped because it was zero gravity, and she was able to walk more normally and didn’t have to worry about slipping.
“Seven to 10 days later, she said she could start swimming a little bit because just being prone in the water relieved her back a lot. Her fitness level was one of the reasons she bounced back so quick, but it was also her sheer determination.
During her recovery and rehab, Hauptmann only missed one dual meet. She made her return to the pool the weekend before Thanksgiving, swimming in the University of Chicago Phoenix Fall Invitational. In that three-day meet, she competed in the 100-yard backstroke, the 200 backstroke, the 200 individual medley, the 400 individual medley, swam the lead-off leg – the backstroke – in the 200 medley relay and swam the third leg of the 200 free relay.
Hauptmann turned in three season-best performances at that meet. She swam the opening leg of the 200-medley relay in a time of 28.09 seconds and was part of relay squad that included Cheyanne Godleski, Callie Clinton and Natalie Arthur that finished 10th in the event. Hauptmann swam on the “A” relay team that also included Ava Boehning, Sarah Nelson and Kate Nelson in the 200 freestyle relay and won the race in a time of 1:34.48. She also finished 10th in the 100 back and 14th in the 200 back at that meet.
“My head coach put me in the “A” relay there, though we had talked about me not swimming the relays, but I was feeling good that day, so we decided against our original plan,” she said. “I ended up swimming my third fastest 50 free split, and that was just six weeks after the accident, so that was surprising.”
“I was really hesitant about putting her in the meet,” Hernandez said. “She was a game-time decision all that week, seeing if she was going to be healthy enough to swim. She was adamant about swimming, and we ended up putting her in the meet.
“We put her in a full slate of events under the impression that she was going to swim the individual events just to say we’re back to it and build momentum for her return. In the 50 freestyle, she raced her fourth fastest time in the event, and then we were evaluating her back and pain levels because we didn’t want to push it just for the relay cut. She said her back felt good, and we put her in that relay.”
Hauptmann then swam in UMSL’s final meet before the winter break at UMSL’s Winter Quad. She won the 200 (2:00.60) and 500 (5:23.71) freestyle and was part of the 400 free relay team that won the event. Hauptmann swam the opening leg of the that relay and turned in a leadoff split of 55.90 seconds. She was rewarded for her performance by being named the Great Lakes Valley Conference’s Women’s Swimming Athlete of the Week for the first time in her career.
“It felt really good winning that honor, but I knew I wasn’t done yet,” Hauptmann said. “I knew I would have some setbacks because I wasn’t doing my main events. It meant a lot considering I typically don’t swim the freestyle events, but it would’ve meant more if it was for the backstroke and IM events.”
In addition to missing time in the pool, Hauptmann, an electrical engineering major, missed a week of classes while she recovered, but with the assistance of former Assistant Director of Athletics for Academics Lindsay Pickering, she was able to work with her professor, her classmates who were able to assist her with keeping with her course work, and with some athletes who helped her getting to and from class. She would ride over with some baseball guys and come back with someone from the basketball team. It was great to see how helpful the other athletes were.
“I didn’t touch anything that first week and then I opened my laptop and saw a bunch of emails from my professors,” she said. “Lindsay reached out to the engineering department here at UMSL and then they reached out to the engineering department at Washington University.
“My professors understood my situation, and they helped me out, as did a lot of students that traveled over to Wash U. I would ride over with some of the baseball guys and come back with the basketball guys. I didn’t have a problem with my concussion, but it was more my back, which prevented me from sitting. I’d stand at the back of the classroom, and one of my professors was always laughing.”
As she heads into the GLVC Swimming and Diving Championships, beginning today and continuing through Saturday at the Deaconess Aquatic Center in Evansville, Indiana. Hauptmann’s goals have changed a little but aren’t far off from what they were at the beginning of the season.
“My main goal is not to get hurt,” she said. “We’re still working on getting that relay cut time, for nationals and I think we’re pretty close. We’ve been working hard on it at practice. I just want to have fun and enjoy swimming for the last time. Hopefully, it won’t be my last time with nationals coming in March, but it will be the last time with the entire team.”
There is no doubt that Hauptmann will have the perseverance to fight through.
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