Injury can’t dampen swimmer’s spirits

Sophomore Tori Bagan has experienced multiple injuries during her swimming career, but she still maintains a positive attitude on the team at Ohio University. (Olivia Wallace | For The Post)

When Tori Bagan earned the Mid-American Conference swimmer of the week award in late January, it was almost too good to be true.

After she suffered a stress fracture in her foot this past summer and a re-fracture soon after, Bagan’s season was close to being finished. Then she came back — just as she had in high school.

Bagan never gives up.

The sophomore from Roanoke, Ind., started her swimming career when she was 6 years old and was already swimming year-round at the age of 8.

“My coaches always had fun to push me to a certain time, a certain place or a certain meet,” Bagan said. “And I’d be like, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ ”

This mentality made her go further than any other swimmer in Indiana. By the time she was a freshman at Homestead High School, her 100-meter breaststroke time of 1:11.62 minutes was ranked 76th in the world at one point.

She made the cut for the Beijing Olympic trials in 2008.

“When I made my cut, I honestly couldn’t believe it,” Bagan said, and repeated it, as she still couldn’t believe it. “It changed my life dramatically.”

Back then, the No. 1 freshman in the country had high hopes. She told newspapers she wanted to grow from the trial experience to be ready for the Olympic Games in 2012 — a statement Bagan would take back today.

“As a freshman back then, I had no idea how much work it would take to get there,” she said.

The next year, she won the state championship in the 100-yard breaststroke and was determined to continue her success — then, an injury kept her out most of her junior year and brought down her high hopes. But she doesn’t have any regrets.

Before the injury, she questioned her devotion to swimming, unsure of where to go next. However, her time away from the water restored her competitive drive.

“The injury saved me,” Bagan said. “I was on the poolside and just watched people practice every single day. It just killed me. I wanted to be in the water, and I realized how much I loved this sport.”

At the end of the 2010 season, she came back to finish third and fourth at the state meet — she didn’t give up.

That same year, Ohio swimming and diving coach Greg Werner contacted her for the first time.

“I honestly didn’t pay too much attention to her injury,” he said. “We’ve been aware of Tori for a very long time, long before we were allowed to make contact. She is an exceptional talent.”

Werner continued to recruit Bagan while her sister McKenzie, who was already swimming for Toledo, tried to convince her younger sister to become a Rocket.

At the beginning of her senior year, Bagan chose Ohio instead of Toledo or Purdue University, which also tried to recruit her.

“I wanted to be somewhere else, basically,” she said. “I wanted to have my own life. I picked Ohio because I immediately knew that this was a hardworking program and yet had the most fun.”

McKenzie’s attempts at recruiting her sister failed, but she said the two “swim completely different events; I don’t think we ever had to swim against each other.”

Bagan finished her high school career on a high note, as if the injury had never happened, winning her second state championship in the 100-yard breaststroke and leading her team to a second-place finish. Her success carried over into her freshman season at Ohio, when she placed sixth in the 50-yard freestyle and fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke at the conference championship.

No other freshman placed better that year. Then the stress fracture in her foot occurred, and she was out again.

“It was really hard,” Bagan said.

She walked on crutches all summer, not doing anything swimming-related aside from upper-body workouts. Her teammates and Werner sent her text messages all summer long, checking in on her progress. By the time she was ready to be back in the pool, she re-fractured her foot.

“We probably did a little bit too much too fast, not truly understanding that she missed a lot of training and so needed to start at a different training than anybody else,” Werner said. “I was quite frustrated because it seemed like we didn’t quite get over the hump of everything we tried.”

Bagan tried to stay positive and watched the team practice every single day and, in turn, she had a positive effect on them.

“(Team members thought) that if she can be positive, I certainly can be positive, too,” Werner said.

It took until the end of October for Bagan to recover and try again, and Werner sent her right back to competition to get her back into shape and look at the big picture. He wanted to motivate her.

She slowly progressed, and by the time winter training was over, she was almost back at the times she had last year and was MAC swimmer of the week.

If she stays healthy, more honors could follow.

“She is a talent, and she still hasn’t shown everyone how good she is,” Werner said, adding that Bagan could be an All-American.

Bagan said she has learned from the past. She doesn’t want to set her goals too high anymore.

“I just want to see how far I can get in swimming, wherever that will be at,” she said. “I guess we’ll find out.”

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