Hibbing Daily Tribune
HIBBING — Ryanne Sauer won’t win a section championship this season.
She won’t be participating at the state meet either, but don’t underestimate her importance on the Hibbing High School girls swimming team.
The Bluejacket senior has been an integral part of the program.
Sauer’s influence on the team goes farther than just her results in the pool.
Sauer is more than just a swimmer for Hibbing. She’s an inspiration for all of her teammates.
It hasn’t been easy. Let’s just say it has taken a toll on her body, but not on her mind or her spirit.
About 1 ½ years ago, Sauer was diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is an inherited connective tissue disorder that is caused by defects in a protein called collagen.
“It makes every joint in my body really loose,” Sauer said. “I experience chronic dislocations.”
The first sign of trouble occurred in 2017 during a meet.
“I was getting out of the pool, and my shoulder ripped out of place,” Sauer said. “I went to a doctor for that, and it turned out that all of my joints were loose. We didn’t know what it was for the longest time until we went to some specialists.”
The Sauers visited three health-care facilities before they got it figured out.
The diagnosis still came as a surprise to Sauer, who at 14 years of age, had reconstructive surgery on both her legs.
“My feet and hips were backward,” Sauer said. “I had that done, and I thought that was the end of it. I thought I was fine, then I started dislocating my shoulder more and more, and other things started dislocating.
“It caused a lot of pain. It hurts as much as anybody else when they dislocate a joint, except for the fact that my shoulder might dislocate five times in one day. It was heartbreaking because all the doctors told me I had to stop swimming and sports. I thought I was done with all of this.”
First sign of trouble
When Sauer was born the joints of her hips were facing sideways and not toward the socket, which is normally what happens.
“They kind of had a clue that I might have something, but they didn’t get into it,” Sauer said. “I had been going to physical therapy from the time I was 12. It was a lot more than that, more than I expected.”
Sauer finished that swimming season, and had those surgeries in January and April of 2016.
“My parents thought I was a bit odd for doing that,” Sauer said with a laugh. “I wanted to get back to having a normal life, like everybody else.”
Sauer was back in the pool that summer even though she was still on crutches and in walking boots, but there was another complication.
“My bones were still delicate,” Sauer said. “Diving off the block, I managed to break both of my feet, but swimming has been important to me. There’s a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do.
“All of my friends, I’ve always wanted to do stuff with them. I’m stubborn like that. I don’t like to ask for help. I wanted to get through everything and get back to the way I was before everything happened.”
Just recently, Sauer had surgery on her jaw because that would dislocate. Her mouth was wired shut for five weeks.
“My sister got me a bell to ring in case I needed something,” she said.
Even through all of that, the one thing that hurt Sauer the most is when the doctors told her she shouldn’t swim anymore.
“I couldn’t handle that,” Sauer said. “I had been here for months and months at a time for six years. It’s become a home for me. Being in the water, I’m like everyone else. It was a place where I wouldn’t get looked at for walking with a crutch.”
Swimming was a way for Sauer to forget all of her problems. It was cathartic, but even that had its ups-and-downs.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Sauer said. “It’s good and bad at the same time. It builds up my muscles, which with my condition, the muscles are the only thing keeping my joints in place. If I go too hard in the pool, it causes my joints to dislocate.”
That’s why Hibbing coach Mike Veneziano tried to temper Sauer’s workouts to keep her healthy.
“Many times I’ve found myself at practice having to back her down because I felt it was prudent,” Veneziano said. “I don’t think she was happy with that, but I’m erring on the general health and welfare of the kid.
“I don’t think she was thrilled about it, but in my mind, I allowed her to do what I thought was safe. She may not have liked it, but she was willing to accept what I thought.”
Veneziano did give Sauer some leeway in that decision-making process.
“I put a lot of control into her hands,” Veneziano said. “I gave her a say in the process.”
Impact on the team
Sauer never complains, that’s why she sets a good example for her teammates.
“I’ve had other swimmers come up to me and say things like, ‘If you can do this, you walk with a crutch, you’ve had all of these surgeries, you’re still going, you’re getting your best times, and you’re still here doing this, than I can do it, too,’’” Sauer said. “That makes me feel good.”
She got the biggest compliment on Thursday at the Section 7A prelims.
After her race in the 100 butterfly, her teammate, sophomore Bella Alsapa, who was in the lane next to her, reached over and the two hugged each other for the longest time.
“That was so amazing,” Sauer said. “She’s literally so sweet. We hugged and said, ‘We did it. We made it here. We both got our best times tonight.’ That was great. She was there for me the whole time. The whole team was there for me.”
Alaspa has known Sauer since she was in the seventh-grade, and she has an enormous amount of respect for her.
“She’s a big inspiration for me because she’s gone through so much,” Alaspa said. “She proves to everyone that no matter what you’re going through, you can get through it, be it physical or mental.
“I remember her before she had her surgeries. She walks with a cane, but she swam the fly at sections. That’s a big point to make because she can get over anything. I know she’s in a lot of pain.Throughout this year, she’s had me put her shoulder in place, twice. I think that’s amazing because most people would quit. She doesn’t.”
As far as the hug goes, Alaspa, who did advance into the finals, said she was happier for Sauer and the result she had.
“She progressed so much and did what she wanted to do, and that meant a lot to me,” Alaspa said. “It wasn’t for me, what I did. I care about my teammates. Ryanne did well, and I want her to feel good.
“We both felt good. A hug was the best thing to do.”
First time at sections
Prior to this season, Sauer had never competed in a Section 7A Meet.
She made the most of it by finishing with a time of 1:14.83, a 3 ½ second time drop over her previous best time of the season.
“It was surreal,” Sauer said. “I remember Harv (assistant coach Ross Harvey) saying to me, ‘Who would have thought that even two or three years ago or at the start of this season, that I would have been swimming in sections.’
“I didn’t think that I would be swimming here. The fact that I made it, it’s really cool.”
Sauer placed 20th in the event. She won’t be advancing to the finals today, but she’s left a big impression on Veneziano.
“What she has accomplished this year, that’s a herculean effort,” Veneziano said. “She’s an inspiration to everybody on this team, whether it be the managers, the coaches or her fellow athletes. They have a deep admiration for her because of how hard she works.
“She refuses to give up. She refuses to cave in when an average person would have said, ‘Forget it,’ long ago. That’s what we call character. There’s no other way to describe it. She has that. Everybody that knows her, is inspired by who she is and her raw determination. If they gave awards, medals, places and points for character, she’d be our most valuable swimmer.”
More to come
Sauer will still have to spend some time in hospitals in the coming days, months and years.
“There’s more surgeries for my feet because the ones that I got weren’t permanent,” Sauer said. “They have to redo those. In a few year’s time, because my shoulders are one of my biggest problems, I’m going to have to get surgery on them to try and keep them from dislocating as often as they do.
“That’s the thing with all of these surgeries, none of them actually fix it. It’s more trying to help it to get better.”
Though it all, Sauer has kept her sense of humor.
“When my friends and I go down to the cities, I’m like, ‘I can get you to any hospital in this town,’” Sauer said. “It’s always funny.”