Stephen Swan was nothing short of dominant at last weekend's Gwinnett County Swimming and Diving Championships, setting two meet records and anchoring a relay to a third.
It's amazing what the Brookwood senior can do with full use of his legs, a luxury he didn't have for a long time after a nasty injury on Sept. 30, 2006.
Darkness was falling that evening when he and two of his friends started throwing the Frisbee. The disc sailed into a neighbor's yard and Swan decided to retrieve it, which required climbing a wrought iron fence, the type with the pointed spikes on top. He didn't make it.
"I slipped," Swan said. "The spike went through my leg on the outside of my left shin. It gored me to the bone and left a huge gash."
He didn't realize the severity until he reached down and felt the amount of blood coming from his leg. Zach Lopez, one of his swimming teammates, came over to get him and they fashioned a tourniquet out of a T-shirt while another friend got more help.
Although the rod missed most major structures in the lower leg, it did tear his muscle apart. He spent four nights in the hospital after surgery, but returned a week later and ended up having two more surgeries because of an infection.
"When I took the cast off two months later, my leg was a lot smaller from atrophy," Swan said. "After that I was in a splint and still healing, so I still couldn't flex my foot."
The results showed in the pool.
Swan returned to swimming more than three months after his fall with a miserable time (for him) of 2 minutes, 15 seconds in the 200-yard freestyle. The time was a product of the injury, because he couldn't kick. He was "pulling," or doing all the work with his arms.
His leg has slowly returned to form, but the injury created another effect - it built his upper body strength up even more.
"I still think I've only noticed in the last couple of months that I use my legs equal to my arms," Swan said. "This past year I've been pulling through practice and meets."
That wasn't the case at county this season.
Swan won the 100 free county title with a meet record time of 46.12, which also broke the all-time county mark in the event. He added a first-place finish in the 200 free in 1:41.63, setting another meet record. If he had swam those two times at state last year, he would have won two state championships.
He also anchored a winning 200 medley relay to first in 1:37.10, the first of his three automatic All-American times at the meet.
"I was expecting to win because I was seeded No. 1 (in the races)," Swan said. "I didn't think I'd go that fast, county-meet record fast. That was a surprise."
Swan's return to swimming also was unexpected.
He swam year-round for two seasons between the ages of 10 and 12, but gave it up to try other sports. He tried Tae Kwon Do, tennis, cross country, wrestling and track, but nothing stuck.
After swimming his freshman season with the high school team, Swan returned to year-round training with SwimAtlanta as a 15-year-old. Now he's a college prospect in the sport who likely will choose from Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina State, Georgia and Ohio State.
"I just don't think I was committed enough back then," Swan said. "I didn't realize how important it was. It wasn't a high priority at the time. The level of commitment to swim year-round wasn't there at the time.
"After I swam freshman year with Coach (Greg) Puckett and the high school team, that got me interested in swimming again. I guess you could say that's when I fell in love with it again."
It's even more fun because Swan is faring so well. He is considered a major contender to win two state titles this season, and also could swim on a pair of state championship relays.
Although Brookwood finished second to rival Parkview at county, the Broncos are hopeful that they can change the outcome at the state meet Feb. 9 because the scoring format is different from county.
They'll seek that goal with a healthy Swan.
"(The leg) feels a lot better now," Swan said. "Knowing it's good, there's not as much stress now about 'Is this going to work again?' I'm a lot more confident now and I don't worry about my races."
SideBar: THE SWAN FILE
Who: Stephen Swan
Favorite movie: "300"
Favorite food: Publix Italian subs
Favorite athlete: Michael Phelps
Favorite music artist: Anything hard-core metal or rock
· Broke an all-time Gwinnett County and county meet record in the 100 freestyle last weekend
· Also broke the county meet record in the 200 free
· Both times were automatic
· Hampered by severe leg injury as a junior
· Maintains a 3.7 GPA
· Scored 2,090 on the SAT