Gabby Baratta competing vs Iowa State on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
Gabby Baratta competing vs Iowa State on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Photo by Isabel Thalken

After seven grueling months of recovery from a labrum tear, the swimmer stands at the edge of the pool, ready to practice. Filled with excitement, Gabby Baratta finds herself in the pool again. Baratta, eager to make up for the time that was lost, pushes herself as hard as she can. That excitement and eagerness made what should’ve been a step forward, a step back. 

“I took it too fast, and it felt like I was going backwards. That was probably my lowest point,” said Baratta. 

Originally from Old Tappan, New Jersey, Baratta is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a member of the swim and dive team. Baratta comes from a physically active family — Her mother is a specialized physical education teacher, and her father is a high school athletic director. Her younger brother is a senior in high school and a member of the football and track team. Growing up, Baratta played soccer, basketball, danced and did karate. But the one sport that stuck with her from a young age, was swimming. 

The sport that challenged her every day for the rest of her career. 

Baratta has chronic asthma which can make swimming difficult. Indoor pools tend to be more humid. Breathing in this humid air activates nerves in the lungs to narrow and tighten the airways. While Baratta is swimming, she has to breathe in this hot and stagnant air, which can lead to breathing issues. 

Baratta’s mother, Eva, said this is something Gabby has struggled with her entire life. 

“This wasn’t something where you can take medication, do rehab, and finish with that. This was a chronic thing that she constantly had to balance,” said Eva. 

Besides asthma, Baratta also has cold urticaria, an allergy where her skin reacts to anything cold. The average temperature of pools are set between 77 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, the normal body temperature for a human hovers around 97.5 to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The lower temperature of the pool prevents swimmers from overheating from the intense use of their bodies. 

This lower temperature causes problems for Baratta, which leads to her skin breaking out in hives. The cold can also cause problems for her asthma, making it hard for her to breathe. 

During Baratta’s freshman year she tears her labrum, a piece of cartilage in her shoulder that helps keep the joint ball in place. According to UNL’s swim and dive team’s coach, Patrick Rowan, a torn labrum can be very serious. 

“It could be a career-ender. I’ve had athletes that had labrum tears that were so serious, that they couldn’t make it back,” said Coach Rowan. 

In Baratta’s case, she had to sit out for seven months before she could fully participate again. 

“That was the longest that I’d ever gone not training, probably my whole life. Swimming is such an intense, all-year-round sport, that we don’t really get any breaks. The longest break I had before that was two weeks,” Baratta said. 

During the first week after her surgery, Baratta recalls sitting on the side, watching her teammates practice. 

“At first, I really didn’t think it was going to be as difficult as it was. I had to sit and watch practice. I was very frustrated after a week of watching and was super eager to get back in. I think this helped me realize how much I really did love the sport because I couldn’t do it at that point,” Baratta said. 

Baratta spent months in a sling and couldn’t use the shoulder at all. Eventually, she was cleared to start kicking again and slowly started to get back into training. 

After the recovery period, Baratta’s eagerness to get back into the pool to participate made other issues come up. Instead of taking it easy, Baratta tried to go jump back into full training which led to shoulder issues her sophomore year. Even as she was feeling pain, Baratta wanted to push herself as far as she can for the team. 

“She doesn’t always want to listen to her body and what her body is telling her. And so she’s pushed through, sometimes too far,” said Coach Rowan.

Due to the constant pain she was feeling, she was pulled from the conference meet. She could no longer do butterfly strokes without feeling pain, and could no longer swim the individual medley. 

“There was a wide range of worries and emotions that she went through… How am I contributing? How am I helping the program? Am I gonna be able to come back? Is my career over,” said Coach Rowan. 

Even with all of these obstacles, Baratta remains a fierce competitor and refuses to give up on the sport or herself. Baratta always kept her head up and refused to listen to any negative thoughts in her head. 

“Her perseverance, her strength, her determination, I never saw as great as they were during that time because she’s never had anything as significant as that in her life at that point,” said Eva. 

Baratta’s story is not a story of sadness but a story of perseverance. She has shown that with enough determination, anything is possible to do, even when it seems impossible. 

“Don’t give up on yourself. When you’ve been practicing a sport for so long and an injury changes the outlook of your whole college career, it can be tough to deal with. But there’s always good that can come from it,” said Baratta. 

And now, Baratta is back at the pool, ready to practice again.