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 firstname.lastname@example.org