Dec. 6, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina senior swimmer Jonathan Boland thought his athletics career might be over when he suffered a broken back during his freshman year of high school. After overcoming the odds and rehabilitating, Boland later earned a spot with the Gamecocks, and now he looks to make a living out of helping others by becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
“I’ve always wanted to be a physician,” Boland said. “When I broke my back, I wasn’t supposed to be able to come back and swim again. My sports medicine physician was able to bring me back to health so I could swim again. That really brought my life back. That really got me interested in wanting to do the same thing for someone else.”
A native of Columbia, S.C., Boland will earn his degree in exercise science next spring, and then it’s off to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston where he plans to study to become an orthopedic surgeon and work in sports medicine.
Boland’s injury didn’t come from an accident or a single traumatic event, but the experience itself was certainly traumatic.
“I had an L-5 fracture at the end of my freshman year in high school,” Boland said. “I thought I had just pulled a muscle in my back, so I just kept training through it. There was a point where I just couldn’t move. It was paralyzing. I finally got it checked out. It was simply from over-training, and it was right at the time that I had a big growth spurt. That was putting too much pressure in that area.”
Doctors first told Boland that he would likely never swim again and that surgery could not be done to fix the problem because of the location of the injury.
“I cried a lot,” Boland said of hearing the early diagnosis. “It was tough because I had just quit playing a lot of sports so I could focus on swimming so I could do that in college. It wasn’t only that I couldn’t swim; I couldn’t do anything athletic or anything that required moving my back.”
I’m so thankful for Coach Moody giving me that chance. That’s all I wanted.
He eventually used an experimental back brace, which served him well, in addition to extensive rehabilitation over the next two years.
“It healed,” Boland said. “I got a C-T scan at the end of my junior year, and I was cleared. The doctors were very encouraging and supportive during the process. They were a little surprised that it was healing like it did.”
While most high school swimming student-athletes knew where they were going before their senior year started, Boland was a little behind in the process, but South Carolina head coach McGee Moody gave him a chance.
“A lot of schools didn’t want to mess around with me because it was a pretty big injury,” Boland said. “Coach Moody trusted in me and gave me an opportunity. I’m so thankful for Coach Moody giving me that chance. That’s all I wanted.”
In addition to fulfilling Boland’s dream to compete at the highest level in college athletics, he became a big contributor for the Gamecocks as his name now appears in more than a dozen places in the program’s record books for the top 10 best performances in several events, including a school record in the 100 meter backstroke. As he prepares for his final season with the Gamecocks, Boland hopes he can provide inspiration to others about not giving up.
“During recruiting, because of my injury, I basically became a ‘nobody,’” Boland said. “I came in as the slowest guy in my recruiting class. I didn’t have national attention coming in, but I was able to work my way into a school record and doing Olympic trials.”
Helping others may be in his blood as both of his parents are psychologists and his older sister graduated from MUSC last year. Having been through a huge physical challenge, the soft-spoken Boland already appears to have a good bed-side manner in place for his future career in working in sports medicine.
“Having an athletics background gives you an instant connection,” Boland said. “I had an injury that was pretty significant, so that can give me an understanding with patients.”
As a student-athlete, Boland has had the opportunity to be around various sports medicine professionals, and he hasn’t been shy about picking their brains about his future profession outside of the swimming pool.
“The dream would be to come back here and work on the staff with our student-athletes,” Boland said. “I’m really excited to be able to devote all of my energy into helping people.”
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