Nearly dying 3 years ago, softball player Sara Groenewegen is now chasing the gold medal in Tokyo
Flexible. Strong adaptability. Stubborn and positive. This is how Sara Groenewegen describes herself.
But she never expected that after passing by with Death, she would have to rely on these qualities.
Groenewegen, 26, is a powerful softball pitcher for the Canadian national team, which will play against Mexico on Wednesday in Fukushima, north of Tokyo. This is one of the first events of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games postponed due to the pandemic.
She has been a member of the team for many years and has become a leader, but her life collapsed three years ago.
Gronewigan told CBC Sports recently: “Think about how fast life changes. It’s scary.” “It was an extremely scary time.”
Groenewegen and her Canadian teammates are in her hometown of Surrey, British Columbia, preparing for the July 2018 World Championship. This team has just returned from a trip to California, and there are still a few days before going to Japan to participate in the first Olympic qualifiers.
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“I woke up, don’t know what happened”
“I ended up with fever and backache,” she said. “I woke up two weeks later and didn’t know what happened. I don’t remember.”
The doctor didn’t realize the seriousness of Grone Wigan at first and almost sent her home. She has type 1 diabetes and her insulin pump broke down a few days ago. Her blood sugar levels are everywhere, and the doctor is not sure if this is the cause of the Groenewegen problem.
Groenewegen’s teammate and head coach Mark Smith watched her deteriorate before their eyes.
In 48 to 72 hours, it went from being a minor worry about her illness to, oh my goodness, Sarah might die.-Canadian coach Mark Smith
“In 48 to 72 hours, from the slight worry about her illness to, oh my goodness, Sarah might die,” Smith told CBC Sports.
Groenewegen was initially diagnosed with a bladder infection. They took antibiotics, but it didn’t work. Then she coughed, making her breathless. Her body was breaking down every minute and every second.
“I got life support,” Gronewigan said. “Later I learned that they gave me a 3% chance of survival.”
For 10 days in early August 2018, Groenewegen was in a medically induced coma, with as many as 15 tubes connected to her body to maintain her life.
Gronewigan contracted Legionnaires’ disease, a rare but severe form of pneumonia. She is still not sure how she got it, but thinks it might come from the air conditioning system of a hotel she stayed in California. The virus is most commonly spread through water droplets containing bacteria in the air.
Once the doctors realized what it was, they were able to stabilize her, but not without some tense moments. All of this happened when her team tried to win an Olympic seat in Japan without their star pitcher.
“I contact her father almost every day to understand her situation, because I want the team to understand her situation,” Smith said. “One time we shed a lot of tears at a meeting, including myself. We didn’t know. We were told that the next 48 hours would be on the verge.”
But the stubborn and optimistic Sara Groenewegen did not intend to give up.
As her team fought for her Olympic dream in Japan, she continued to fight for her life. After 11 days, she finally woke up from a coma.
“I’m still going to Japan,” she said with a smile. “About two or three days later, my phone line was cancelled. They returned my cell phone to me.”
Lost two weeks of her life
When she started to read all her text messages, she realized that she had unknowingly lost nearly two weeks of her life. During that time, her team lost an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics, ranking third in the world championships, but it takes the top two to get an Olympic seat.
“I remember trying to stand up, but the pain was crazy,” Gronewigan said. “This is a big struggle. At that time I suddenly realized that it would be a difficult journey. I couldn’t walk at the time. I could barely sit up in bed. I accept that point every day.”
But the road to recovery is underway. The first goal is to walk down the hospital corridor. That came quickly. Two weeks later, she was discharged early due to rapid recovery.
After six months of passing death, Gronewigan returned to the national team training camp in January 2019. The first few weeks in the gym were full of challenges, but she persevered.
Strong adaptability. Flexible. Her coach came up with some other words to describe her.
“If you know Sara as we know Sara, you won’t be surprised by her struggle. She is independent and stubborn. She has a lot of courage and passion,” Smith said.
A year later, Grone Wigan pitched the first perfect game in the history of the Pan American Games for the Canadian team in Lima, Peru.
Less than three months later, at the same Surrey diamond field where the nightmare began, Gronewigan helped Canada get a place at the Tokyo Olympics.
“In the same field,” she said, almost still unbelievable. “We are qualified. Talk about a complete circle moment.”
“This is an amazing story, because on this planet, this woman may not be with us,” Smith said.
Groenewegen is a member of the 15-person team that is now going to Azuma Stadium. This is the first time since 2008 that softball has been used as part of the Olympic Games.
There is no doubt that the pitcher added some extra fuel to the Canadian team that has been ignited.
“I can be a source of inspiration for my teammates, it’s really cool,” Gronewigan said. “This journey is really special. I am very happy to be able to participate in the Olympics with them this summer. We want to make history and complete this work.”