If you happen to watch senior swimmer Alex Porter slowly limp around the Sheerr Pool, dressed in street clothes and chatting with his teammates, you might think he was just another athlete who had his collegiate sports career cut short by injury.
However, while the veteran has only been able to walk on his own for just over two months, he never let that stop him from making the most of his final season in the pool at Penn.
Porter, who was one of the Quakers’ top swimmers in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle over the last three years, including a top-eight finish in the 100 free at last year’s championship meet, suffered a gruesome leg injury at the end of September. The senior tore his posterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, and sustained partial tears in his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament.
While the injury might have hit him and his teammates hard, Porter was determined from the outset to get back in the water.
“We all really tried to pitch in as much as we could, but the thing about Alex is that he wanted to be self sufficient,” senior Alex Elias said. “His determination right from day one was apparent. He had it in his mind he was going to come back, and that was really impressive and encouraging to see.”
Recovery wouldn’t necessarily come easy for Porter though.
“I got surgery in the beginning of October to repair some of the ligaments that I had injured, and it wasn’t until November 23 that I could put any pressure or weight on the leg at all,” Porter said.
On land, the senior hobbled around with the aid of a walker – the kind found most commonly in nursing homes. But in the water, it was a different story.
“That was the point where I just sort of got in the water and flopped around, and I just focused a lot on pulling and getting my upper body back into shape.”
“It was really hard for Alex when he first came back,” coach Mike Schnur said. “He couldn’t push off the walls, he couldn’t dive in and he couldn’t kick, all of which are really significant parts of swimming.”
However, little by little, Porter found himself becoming faster and stronger in the water, even as he continued to crutch along on land.
By the end of December, Porter was able to start doing flip turns and kicking. Finally, over the team’s annual winter break training trip, he resumed full team practices, going the distances his teammates were swimming, although admittedly at a far slower pace.
“We really had a lot of fun with Alex during his recovery,” senior Sam Ruddy said. “Any time he would get up on the blocks even during practice after his injury, guys would stop what they were doing and start screaming ‘Porter!’
“Because he was so well liked, people really got behind him, and he was just a great example to all of us of what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.”
Then, less than two months after the first time he was able to put pressure on his leg, Porter was back on the blocks for the first race of his senior year, as he suited up for the team’s away tri-meet against Brown and Harvard.
“The biggest thing about the first race for me wasn’t even the race itself but being on the travel bus again," Porter said of his first meet back. “Most of the time, that long bus ride is the thing everyone hates, but for me it was huge and I just had that feeling like I was finally part of the team again.”
“It was great to see him get from the point where we literally had to lift him into the pool to the point where he was doing everything he needed to be doing to race,” Elias added.
“It’s hard not to be impressed by that.”
Porter would also get the opportunity to swim in two more meets, racing on Senior Day against Delaware, and finally ending his season against La Salle last weekend.
“We just wanted to give Alex a chance to swim a few more times,” Schnur said. “He is a guy who has contributed a ton to our program over the four years and it was heartbreaking to see him get hurt as a senior.
“We are nowhere near as fast a team as we could be without him, but it was great to see him suit up for us a few more times.”
Due to a scheduling conflict, Porter was given the choice to either cap off his collegiate swimming career with one last taper meet — the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships in Pittsburgh — or watch his teammates throw down at Men’s Ivy Championships in Princeton. Without hesitation, the senior chose the latter.
Despite all the work and pain that went into his return, and even with his season already at an end, Porter feels that his decision to fight to get back in the pool was well worth it – and he would do it again if given the chance.
“Obviously, I didn’t get in the number of meets I planned on racing in this year, but it was great just to be back in the water and racing again,” Porter said.
“Especially in collegiate sports, you have such a limited time to enjoy your sport. I have seventy years of life after this to do whatever I want, but for the time that I was here I wanted to make the most of it.”
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