Comeback kid: Swank smashes PR two years after serious illness
Two years ago Mingus Union senior Andrew Swank was paralyzed but on Saturday he opened the track and field season by demolishing his personal record in the shot put.
At the NPA Skydome Classic at NAU on Saturday, Swank jumped to fifth place in the final standings by tallying a throw of 40-feet. His PR before that was 33-9, set in Sedona in late April last year.
“I thought I did really good. I PRed by almost six feet or something like that from last year, which was insane,” Swank said. “I was the last person to make it into the finals, so I was like the very bottom person, so I was the ninth person going into the finals and then I ended up beating four other people, so I got fifth in finals, which was really insane because that’s a first for me.”
Mingus throwers coach Lauren Thagard said it’s probably pretty unheard of to best your PR by so much in the first meet of the season.
“It’s probably not very common, but at practice he’s been very receptive to the suggestions that are being made and he wants to get better,” Thagard said. “So he’s super coachable and he’s really looking for what can be done so that he can improve his throws and it was just sort of like a combination of the perfect storm when he threw the 40 foot throw and when he threw it we knew it was going to be a good one.”
Thagard said it was also impressive because it was indoors and using the unfamiliar rubber shot of indoor track and field, which was “shaped like a lemon.”
“I was really excited because I saw the mark was 40, so once I threw it and hit the line, I was stoked and really excited,” Swank said. “I was like ‘Thagard, that was a really good throw’ and she’s like ‘yeah I know’ so I was really excited.”
Swank’s unlikely PR comes two years after he was temporarily paralyzed to the effects of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
“It’s an autoimmune disease that destroys your nerves, so it destroyed my nerves, so that limited my muscle function,” Swank said. “I was out of school for a couple weeks, I was down in Phoenix Children’s and I couldn’t move and then I came back and had to use a walker.”
The illness took away his sophomore year of track and field and delayed his progress.
“I was taken out of the weights class because I couldn’t lift,” Swank said. “I came out (for track and field) and then like a week in I started getting numb and stuff so it just took me out of track my sophomore year, which sucks because I feel like I definitely could have improved more, limited my strength because I was in weights and I was doing pretty with like squats and bench and everything like that, so it just limited me a lot.”
After the devastating illness, Swank worked hard to not only regain his athletic skill, but to become one of the top throwers in the state.
He’s ranked No. 22 in the shot put after the first week of the season.
“My sophomore year I got paralyzed, I lost all my muscle movement,” Swank said. “And then I came out here last year and I wasn’t throwing as high as I was hoping, but after working out a bunch, I was able to throw 40, so I’ve come a long way.”
Thagard thinks he can qualify for state this year.
She said he’s been telling her pretty much all semester in a class she has him in, that he’s excited for this season. She teaches math.
“It’s crazy because after not being able to move your legs to being able to throw 40 feet and get fifth in finals, it feels really good and it’s like a big accomplishment,” Swank said.
It’s been quite a senior year for Swank.
He took up wrestling late in the season and went undefeated on Senior Night, his birthday. Mingus Union wrestling head coach Klint McKean praised him after the matches.
“I did like a month, maybe a month and a half of wrestling and he was really impressed, during our home meet I went undefeated,” Swank said. “I started out and I didn’t have any idea what I was doing and I got really good from there. Academically I’ve also being doing really good, so it’s just a really good year for me, definitely improved myself from the past coming years by getting better grades, doing better athletically.”
The illness did potentially lead Swank to his calling. He is set to go to NAU and wants to go into physical therapy, because he wants to return the favor.
“I had a physical therapist and I went there a couple times,” Swank said. “They thought I was going to have to go there a lot more, they were looking at like 20 plus times I would have had to go but I went a couple times and I ended up doing really good with it and I was out in like in like three or four sessions. But it was just really cool and it was really nice because that’s one of the big reasons I was able to get back to where I was getting back my peripheral reception and my strength. So rehab is really cool and I want to be able to help people.”