After two unsuccessful surgeries to fix a shoulder injury, Whitehorse swimmer Alexandra Gabor has closed the books on a spectacular 13-year career.
Beginning with a small swim meet in Watson Lake in 2000, the former Glacier Bears swimmer went on to compete at three world championships, set numerous club and national records, and gained a full scholarship to Stanford University in California.
“I’m really grateful for everything I was able to see and everything I was able to do and all the support I had over the years,” said Gabor, who announced her retirement this week. “It’s really incredible, coming from such a small town, to have such a strong support network: my parents, my family and friends, the Glacier Bears swim club. They helped me so much.”
The 20-year-old freestyle specialist is finishing her second year at Stanford, but she has never raced for the prestigious school. She hasn’t competed since May of 2011.
After 11 years of heavy training and countless meets, Gabor developed thoracic outlet syndrome, a repetitive stress injury from over use. The injury is the compression of nerves and arteries between the first rib and collarbone. It’s most common for swimmers, volleyball players, baseball pitchers - athletes who frequently raise their arms above their head.
She underwent corrective surgery in November 2011, bit it was botched.
“It was a pretty awful and gruesome surgery,” said Gabor. “The pain calmed down, so that was one of the benefits. The downside was they punctured the lung and it was collapsed for three weeks, so I couldn’t lie down. A few months later, I also found out they had torn the nerve to my rotator cuff muscle - the rotator nerve. So those muscles were essentially in paralysis.
“So, I think it was last May, I went to go see a neurosurgeon. He said, ‘It’s been nine months and it’s not better, and it’s not going to.’”
Gabor had another surgery last June to graph the two ends of the nerve together. It was followed by an eight-month recovery.
“That’s where I am now,” said Gabor. “I still have the original injury - the thoracic outlet. This spring I tried to get back into swimming and it was just really painful and following the same progression as before.
“I weighed the costs and benefits of another surgery: how many more years will I be swimming, is it really worth it at this point, how much I love it and how much I want to do it.
“I came to the decision that it’s time to move on. It’s been two years and there are so many other things I could be doing.”
Gabor is one of the most accomplished swimmers to come out of the Yukon.
She currently holds a total of 80 Whitehorse Glacier Bears club records - almost twice as many as any other swimmer from the club.
Even after two years without competing, Gabor still has 18 British Columbia records, more than any other B.C./Yukon swimmer.
She also holds six national records, including two for senior swimmers.
A particularly great year for Gabor was 2009.
“I really enjoyed that year,” said Gabor. “I was swimming at my best and swimming at my most confident.”
While competing at the 2009 Canada Summer Games in P.E.I., Gabor won the territory its first-ever gold medal from the Games, eventually leaving with two gold and two bronze.
“I was just really happy to represent the territory, my club, Swimming Canada - that was just fantastic,” said Gabor. “The team was great, I had so much fun. I still talk to teammates that were there ... we all have such fond memories of that summer.”
That same summer Gabor competed at the World Aquatic Championships in Rome, Italy, helping propel the Canadian team to an eighth-place finish in the women’s 4x200-metre relay. In the 200-metre freestyle - her favourite event - Gabor finished 20th in a field of 92.
At the age of 16, she was the second youngest on the Canadian team at the championships.
Gabor also competed at two European world cups in 2009, winning bronze in Stockholm, Sweden and Berlin, Germany.
She wrapped up the year winning gold in the 200-metre freestyle at the Canada Cup in Toronto while still just 16.
Gabor also won two bronze at the Junior World Championships in Monterrey, Mexico in July of 2008.
At her second worlds, the 2010 World Short Course Swimming Championships in Dubai, UAE, Gabor helped the Canadian team to ninth in the women’s 4x200-metre freestyle relay. She also took 34th in the 200-metre freestyle and 27th in 400-metre freestyle while in Dubai.
Gabor collected 13 gold, nine silver and two bronze at Canadian Age Group Championships between 2004 and 2008.
After two years on a scholarship at Stanford, Gabor plans to stay at the school to finish her bachelor of arts with a major in international relations, focussing on international security.
She also plans to go for a masters in the future.
“I really, really love it here,” said Gabor. “The school is fantastic. The department is fantastic. All the opportunities are incredible. It really opened my eyes to so many things, these last two years, realizing what’s out there.”
Gabor is the second top Whitehorse swimmer to announce her retirement in as many weeks. Butterfly specialist MacKenzie Downing, 26, decided to call it a career last week.
“I really want to thank the Glacier Bears, they’ve been supporting me over my entire career, as well as Swim Yukon, Sport Yukon, Swimming Canada,” added Gabor. “(And) all the coaches I had along the way, especially (former Glacier Bears head coach) Marek (Poplawski), who was my coach for seven years, as well as Lea (Maurer) and Greg (Meehan) here at Stanford, and the entire Stanford family.
“I am so grateful to have been able to call myself a Glacier Bear, a Yukon athlete, a Canadian athlete, and a Stanford student-athlete.”
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