By Micah Truex
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
"As a rower Jeannine McCarty works hard to better herself and therefore our team," says head coach Jimmy King. "As a senior, she offers advice and support to her younger teammates and aids in their development both on and off the water. Her greatest role, however, is one that she probably doesn't fully comprehend: role model. She has persevered where many have succumbed, and in so doing, has become a source of inspiration."
Now in her third season with the Mountaineers’ rowing team, McCarty – an exercise physiology major from Vineland, N.J. – started experiencing problems with a shoulder that she had previously injured in high school.
"My first surgery was in the fall of my senior year of high school," McCarty said.
After dislocating her shoulder while playing floor hockey in gym class, all she could think about on the way to the hospital was her soccer game later that day and getting back into shape for spring rowing season. Naturally terrified by what the future presented in terms of recovery, McCarty was focused on how quickly she could return and how much better she could become.
Deja vu hit three short years later.
"I just wanted to crumble because my doctor assured me that my shoulder wouldn’t have any problems again," McCarty said. "I hadn’t done anything I wasn’t supposed to do that would make me re-injure my shoulder, my shoulder just decided to start to slip out in practice.
"I had pushed myself so hard the previous summer and fall season to be the fastest that I could be. It just stunk that I wasn’t able to be in the boats pushing through the pain with my teammates."
After her second surgery, McCarty said it was harder to maintain a positive attitude about recovery. But who could blame her?
"Everything was progressing well into her third season when the injury brought her season to a screeching halt," King adds.
With the support of her teammates and a poster they made her, which still hangs in her room today, McCarty found the strength and determination to not let the injury deter her from recovering.
Some of her struggles weren’t necessarily rowing related. McCarty says that one of her biggest struggles was having faith that everything would turn out well. Her biggest struggle of all, though, was making sure she didn’t do too much too quickly.
"My athletic trainer probably got mad at me, because I would always pester her about when I would be able to bike, or run or even change exercises in rehab," McCarty says. "It was hard to hold myself back enough to recover correctly."
"After running through the expected emotions of anger, frustration and disappointment, she focused on her rehabilitation and returned to rowing," King said.
After making a great comeback in her mind and getting the scores she wanted on the erg, McCarty hit a major set back just two weeks after celebrating her comeback with her coaching staff. She began to have similar pain to what she had the year before.
"I should have known to knock on wood," McCarty adds.
"None of us could believe she was going to go through the experience all over again," King says. "Optimism was understandably a scarce commodity at the time, but somehow she endured and preserved.
"Her return to competitive rowing was never discussed. The focus was purely on rehabbing her shoulder. The only return she discussed was the possibility of her serving as a student-coach."
Devastated by the injury and the possibility that her rowing career was over, McCarty says that she told her parents that she was done rowing.
"Rowing had been my life since I was 13 years old," she says. "But if you know my coach he would say 'I have a thick skull,' kind words but totally true. I mean how can you expect someone as passionate as I am to just give up something they love? It's like telling a little girl to give up Barbie Dolls or something; it only works for about a second."
McCarty continued to train with the ambition of getting to finish out her senior season competing on the water with her teammates.
"One afternoon last fall, Jeannine was riding along in my launch when I finally broached the topic of working toward a full return to rowing and racing this spring," King states. "I knew, that if there was a possibility, that I wanted her to have the opportunity to return, not knowing if she would be interested or perhaps too afraid to even risk another injury.
"Fast forward to February when at the end of an erg workout, and I was reviewing the morning’s results while standing next to her, I recall saying. "you’re going to get a personal best on your 2k." She promptly grinned and said, "yeah, I know."
On March 8, almost one year to the date of her third shoulder surgery, McCarty set a new personal best, beating the one she set three years prior, according to King.
"I don’t think I could have been any happier for her at that moment," King recalls. "What might be easily overlooked by some is that Jeannine spent two years cross training, during which she managed to not only maintain, but improve her fitness. So maybe somewhere, deep in her subconscious, there were thoughts of unfinished business."
"Jeannine has developed into someone who looks at her situation and sees a positive end to it," says teammate Tamyra Roberts. "She has become more driven and determined to do her best when given the opportunity. Every time she returned from injury, she blew us all away. I believe she is much stronger and that she believes she is much stronger than she was."
"Oh man, I have definitely learned that I am stronger than I think am," McCarty concludes. "I learned to be happy with all of the small things. I also learned that it is so easy to find negatives in every situation, but when you find positive things in certain situations, you can do more than you have ever imagined. You can always exceed the expectations you or anyone else puts on you."
Although many consider McCarty to be nearly fully recovered from her injuries, she knows that the road to recovery has only begun and will near completion when she crosses the finish at the final race of the season.