Sophomore swimmer Taylor Waddleton was diagnosed with a broken metacarpal bone in her left hand just a month before the 2019-2020 swimming season, potentially derailing a promising sophomore campaign.
Instead of taking a slow and methodical road to recovery, she wanted to push herself to do more.
“Anytime the team had practice, I was in the gym working out to stay in shape,” Waddleton said. “I would do cardio and ab workouts to make sure I was getting back in the pool as soon as possible.”
What’s more is that Waddleton still had to endure an intense recovery process to regain usage of her left hand, her dominant one. From occupational therapy three times a week to weight room workouts, she never missed a beat.
The recovery process for Waddleton also gave her a new sense of gratitude for swimming. Seeing her teammates competing at the first few meets of the season she said, only fueled her desperation to come back.
“Not being in the pool affected my outlook as a team player,” Waddleton said. “My appreciation for swimming and for my teammates grew throughout this time, making me even more determined to get back into the water.”
Waddleton did not have the luxury of having a high school swimming team, so being a key swimmer on the women’s swimming and diving program has always given her a team-first mindset.
“Since we didn’t have a team at Nutley, I swam on club teams throughout high school. Club swimming never had much of a team aspect to them, and I wasn’t really close with anyone,” Waddleton said. “[But here] it was a whole new outlook for me. I had teammates supporting me, along with my coaches who truly cared about me, and I’ve succeeded because of that.”
Waddleton would eventually return to swimming in a dual meet against Kean University on Nov. 5, only weeks after her hand injury. Waddleton’s inspiring comeback had a tremendous impact on the team, particularly senior diver Ponsee Ibrahim.
“Her determination in getting back to the water is something I used to succeed in my own diving,” Ibrahim said. “She bounced back super quickly which surprised me.”
Ibrahim believes that Waddleton’s love for swimming goes unmatched.
“I’ve never met anyone who loves this sport as much as she does,” Ibrahim said.
Waddleton certainly shined bright as a freshman, finishing fourth in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) in the 1000 freestyle (11:09.28). She also had top 10 finishes in the 1650 freestyle (18:24.49) and 500 freestyle (5:20.44) for the season. But what might have been the biggest highlight of her career to this point was finishing 6th in the Metropolitan Championships in the 1650 freestyle, the second-fastest time by a freshman in the event that year.
One would think that there’d be a significant drop off in Waddleton’s times, but the sophomore freestyle and backstroke swimmer has not lost much of a step. She currently ranks fifth in the NJAC in the 1000 freestyle (11:15.53) and sixth in the 1650 freestyle (18:52.17).
As the dual meet season comes to an end, Waddleton is focused on getting those times back to the way they were as a freshman for the Metropolitan Championships.
“I can’t expect greatness from myself because I did have an injury,” Waddleton said. “But if I can go the same times that I did as a freshman or even faster, it would mean a lot to me.”
As for the team, the women’s swimming and diving team finished the dual meet season at 6-5, falling short of their goal of an NJAC Championship. Although they did not win it this year, Waddleton does not see this season as a failure at all.
“After losing to TCNJ (The College of New Jersey), we got our minds ready for the Metropolitan Championships,” Waddleton said. “In sports there are letdowns, but you can only dwell on it for a few minutes until you have to move to the next challenge.”
The Metropolitan Championships will be a big challenge for Waddleton and her team, but if they can come away with another top-three finish, it will certainly be a sweet moment for a swimmer who has overcome the odds all season long.