March 17, 2010
It pained Anne Marie May to move her arm barely a month ago, but she'll be reaching this week for something that no UCSB woman has ever grasped:
An NCAA swimming championship.
May, a two-time All-American, will begin her quest on Thursday in the preliminaries of the 50 freestyle at the Boilermaker Aquatic Center at Indiana's Purdue University. She will also compete in Saturday's 100 free.
She's come a long way in the short time since having dislocated a rib during the Big West Conference Championships.
"In terms of pain, I'm at 100 percent - I feel great," May said. "I had so much success with physical therapy. My physical therapist is an amazing guy.
"Once you settle into a taper, our swimming rest, there are ups and downs, and your energy kind of ebbs and flows, but I'm optimistic."
May was ranked No. 1 in the 50 free for two months with her time of 22.34, and she previously set Big West Conference records in both the 50 (22.00) and 100 (49.13). But she's been bypassed this year since getting sidelined by the injury. She is seeded 12th in the 50 free and 26th in the 100 free.
"We feel she has a shot at winning it," UCSB coach Gregg Wilson said. "You're talking about the 50 free, though - if you have an eyebrow out of place, you lose. If you don't cut your fingernails, it could affect the outcome of the race.
"But she was third in the NCAAs during her sophomore year and was the belle of the ball. She shocked everyone from lane one, nailed the start and just moved up from seventh to third. And she has the ability now to go from 12th to first."
May, now a fifth-year senior, popped one of her ribs out of place while trying to help UCSB's medley relay team overcome a big deficit during her anchor leg at the Big West meet.
"When you do a relay start, you kind of swing your arms and get an enormous amount of what Gregg likes to call torque - it's his favorite word," she said. "You just get so much power going trying to propel yourself off the block that I felt it go while I was in the air."
She had an idea of what was happening, having suffered the same injury during warmups to qualify for the World Championships. But she continued on with the Big West race, anyway.
"I hit the water and it hurt for the first few strokes, but adrenalin takes over," May said. "I was pretty close, even with the rib like that. Adrenalin is pretty awesome."
She was clocked in a time of 48.9 for her split of the 100 free, although the Gauchos still lost the race.
"She really tried, bless her heart," Wilson said. "She's a pretty remarkable young lady. If she doesn't score a single point at the NCAAs, I'll still be very proud to be with her on the deck.
"But she'll be very upset if she doesn't make the final. She's a very competitive person."
May struggled to even get out of the water at the Big West meet.
"It was the fourth rib back there, and it felt like a knife just jabbing through," she said. "It really hurt to even breathe.
"It was just incredibly painful, so I went straight to Kelly, our trainer, and she worked on me around the clock for like two days. It was hard to make any headway because the muscles had gone into spasm all around it, so it was just a big, knotted mess."
May had to deal with even more pain during her recovery.
"I iced a lot and got a lot of treatments, but it was incredibly painful," she said. "I mean, I'm not a crier, by any means, and I lost it a couple of times.
"The treatments were so painful, that I was just miserable."
But the support she got was wonderful, she added.
"I feel so lucky and blessed because there are so many helping hands on deck," said May, who receives her individual coaching from assistant Naya Higashijima. "If somebody is hurting or in trouble, there are so many helpful people who will drop everything to get you back to normal, and that's a pretty special thing.
"It seriously is all for one and one for all, especially with our coaching staff and all of our trainers, our weight coaches. Everybody really looks out for you, and that's something that I value so much about our coaches in particular, that they really love us, and they treat us like their own kids and their own family."
The camaraderie is what prompted May to switch from water polo to swimming during her freshman year after watching the Gauchos compete at the Big West Championships.
"She literally came out of the grandstands and told us, 'I want to do that ... You guys are having fun,'" Wilson said. "In high school, swimming was just something she did during summer recreation. But she's an incredible athlete. She has enormous physical gifts.
"And although she's the nicest person in the world, when she gets on that block, she could have her mom next to her and she'd still want to rip off her head and hand it to her during the race - and her mom is her best friend. She's fast and she's nice and she's smart. And she's a Gaucho."
May is smart enough to have won UCSB's Female Scholar-Athlete Award, which was presented to her during last week's Big West Conference Basketball Tournament in Anaheim.
But she's still trying to figure out her future after UCSB, whether that means graduate school or training for the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I'm hoping to figure that out post-NCAAs and during the spring quarter, take my time to figure out what I really want to do," May said. "I still have a lot of passion for this. I'm lucky to be a sort of late bloomer. I don't feel burned out at all."
Even with the pain of the Big West meet seared into her memory.