Northeast Times

Hitting her stride

“I worked my hard­est and did everything I could. I didn’t think I’d come back and do as well as I did, but I did work for it. And I’m proud of what I ac­com­plished.” —Sarah Ham­mer

Be­fore Sarah Ham­mer could be­come the best, she had to ex­per­i­ence the worst. 

Ham­mer, who’ll be a seni­or at Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School, has be­come a star swim­mer for the Rag­dolls. Last winter, dur­ing the Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship, she earned four gold medals in the med­ley re­lay, 200 free­style re­lay, 50 free­style and 100 but­ter­fly events. She also broke the team re­cord for the 50 free­style, fin­ish­ing with a time of 24:45.

However, just one year be­fore that cham­pi­on­ship glory, Ham­mer was kept out of the wa­ter by a sea­son-end­ing shoulder in­jury.  

“I was out from Novem­ber to March of my sopho­more year, which is pretty much the en­tire high school sea­son,” ex­plained Ham­mer, who tore the ro­tat­or cuff in her right shoulder. “It was hard see­ing my team go out and com­pete without me. They went on to win the PCL (Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League) plaque. Even though I was still on the team, I felt I wasn’t as much a part of it be­cause I couldn’t swim.”

For Ham­mer — who swims year round and cur­rently com­petes with the Tor­res­dale Swim Club — sit­ting out that sea­son was dev­ast­at­ing. She con­tin­ued to at­tend every prac­tice and meet, but she was for­bid­den to swim un­til her shoulder fully healed. 

The in­jury oc­curred in Septem­ber 2009. At the time, Ham­mer also was swim­ming with a squad in Lower Mo­re­land. 

“It was kind of a pain here and there. I could deal with it. I would come home and ice it and be fine,” re­called Ham­mer, 17. “By Novem­ber, I couldn’t swim a full lap without be­ing in dire pain.

“It was ba­sic­ally a ro­tat­or-cuff tear from a lot of over­use, and it was blown out,” she con­tin­ued. “It was a long, long way to re­cov­ery.”

Ham­mer vis­ited her fam­ily phys­i­cian and even­tu­ally was re­ferred to Temple Sports Medi­cine. She was in­struc­ted to rest her shoulder for one month, fol­lowed by 90 days of phys­ic­al re­hab­il­it­a­tion at Holy Re­deem­er’s Sports Medi­cine Cen­ter. 

“Temple was amaz­ing. I couldn’t have asked for any­thing bet­ter,” said Ham­mer. “It was hard not be­ing able to swim, but I have so many friends with Lower Mo­re­land and at Ry­an. They were mo­tiv­at­ors in telling me I could get through it. Also, with my high school team, I saw they were get­ting stronger and I knew I wanted to be a part of it the next year.” 

The mighty Rag­dolls went on to claim the Cath­ol­ic League title that year and re­peated in the 2010 sea­son. 

“Com­ing out of miss­ing most of the sea­son of my fa­vor­ite sport, I didn’t know what to ex­pect,” said Ham­mer. “I worked my hard­est and did everything I could. I didn’t think I’d come back and do as well as I did, but I did work for it. And I’m proud of what I ac­com­plished.”

The Arch­bish­op Ry­an girls swim pro­gram has es­tab­lished it­self as a dyn­asty over the years. The Rag­dolls have won 12 Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ships in the squad’s his­tory, in­clud­ing six con­sec­ut­ive from 2002 through ’07.  

“I feel like, when you’re grow­ing up, your as­pir­a­tion is to com­pete for a high school team, es­pe­cially one like Ry­an be­cause of their repu­ta­tion and how com­pet­it­ive they are,” Ham­mer ex­plained. “It was so great to feel how so many teams at Ry­an have felt be­fore me. It was a great feel­ing to win the title.”

These days, Ham­mer says, her shoulder is back to nor­mal. She’s com­pet­ing in a Tor­res­dale Swim Club sum­mer league that spans Me­mori­al Day week­end through the end of Ju­ly. 

She’ll have some time off in Au­gust, and in Septem­ber she’ll be mak­ing waves with her Lower Mo­re­land swim team. When that sea­son ends, she’ll dive in­to her sea­son with Arch­bish­op Ry­an. 

“I love my sum­mer club, it’s so much fun. There’s a lot of com­pet­i­tion,” said Ham­mer, an hon­or stu­dent at Ry­an who will be team cap­tain for the Rag­dolls this winter. “Next year, of course, my ex­pect­a­tions are high. My shoulder is stronger than it was, and I’ve grown stronger as a swim­mer.

“I’m ex­tremely com­pet­it­ive. That is just my per­son­al­ity,” she ad­ded. “I don’t know how to ex­plain it. Swim­ming is something that I was nat­ur­ally tal­en­ted in. I love the whole team at­mo­sphere, and be­ing up­beat and com­pet­it­ive.” •• 

Ed­it­or Melissa Yerkov can be reached at my­erkov@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at myerkov@bsmphilly.com.

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