Massi Pagnotta
Rome, Italy

My stroke was butterfly.

I used to be a very, very competitive swimmer. I had been doing it since I was 4 years old. There was a point in my life when it was so competitive and I loved it. I had qualified for the European championships and with that came a very rigorous schedule. I would have to wake up at 5a.m. for a two-hour practice, change, then go to school, then go to practice again. There was even a point where I was taking it so seriously that I wasn't just saying, ‘I love swimming,’ but it literally became a part of me - it was something that was always embedded into my mind.

One day, something really stupid happened during my practice. We were doing a warm up and I was at the starting block about to dive into the pool. I didn't realize that there was someone right under the diving block and I panicked. I tried to hold back, which caused me to fall into the water while still holding onto the block. It happened so fast. A second later, my shoulder was completely twisted.

I remember the horrible pain I was in just from that quick, stupid moment. I was crying all the way to the hospital. They told me that I couldn't swim for at least six months, which was probably some of the hardest words I had to hear. It was my sophomore year in high school and to qualify in time for the race that I had always wanted since I was 4, only to have this happen was the hardest thing I had to go through.

I am not gonna say I fell into a depression, but I genuinely felt deeply heartbroken going through this. It was such a weird shift because I was so ecstatic since I qualified for this race - a race so much bigger than just regionals or nationals. It was an international race.

Having that race taken away from me impacted everything else in my life. I felt like I was being meaner to my friends and sophomore year was probably my worst year academically. I could easily just look back and dwell on this negatively, but I realized that it genuinely changed me for the better.

As far as my character goes, it made me realize to not take life too seriously. Things happen for a reason. Life will throw curveballs at you and you can either be depressed about it and say my life is over, or you can make the best out of it.

When I had to stop swimming, it humbled me. It taught me to sit in a chair and look at other people perform. When all you can do is sit and watch, you realize that everyone out there has been working just as hard as you. I became so resilient from this experience especially because I know it all happened for a reason.

After I stopped swimming, I was able to focus on my studies and I got into one of the best universities in the world. I am following my creative and artistic passions while meeting some of the greatest people. If this injury didn't happen, who knows where I would be? I probably wouldn’t have gone straight to university and chose to swim instead. Because of both the discipline I gained from swimming and overcoming this incident, I have found my true, authentic self.