Prep Sports

West's Lily Ernst battled back to state swim success

HS journalism: Surgery slowed her down, but didn't stop junior

Iowa City West’s Lily Ernst, competing in the 200-yard medley relay at the girls’ high school state swimming and diving meet at the YMCA in Marshalltown on Nov. 3, battled back after surgery on her hip to swim for the Women of Troy in the fall. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa City West’s Lily Ernst, competing in the 200-yard medley relay at the girls’ high school state swimming and diving meet at the YMCA in Marshalltown on Nov. 3, battled back after surgery on her hip to swim for the Women of Troy in the fall. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Six months.

A record-setting swimmer at Iowa City West, junior Lily Ernst had to slow down for six months to help ease a severe pain in her hip.

It wasn’t easy, but ended up being rewarding.

Ernst first experienced hip pain early last school year.

“We were painting my (bedroom) wall and I was sitting crisscrossed, and my (right) hip popped out of place,” Ernst said.

The hip progressively got worse, bothering her every day. It got to the point where she could barely walk.

Ernst’s doctor recommended she try physical therapy to ease the pain. When that didn’t work, she went back to her doctor to see if there was an underlying issue and had an MRI.

A few days later she found out she had hip dysplasia.

“Hip dysplasia means that ... the socket doesn’t fully cover the ball portion of the upper thigh,” said athletics trainer Sheila Stiles. “Your hip makes a bowl (shape) and your leg bone is a ball and the ball sits in that bowl. With hip dysplasia, the bowl is too shallow ... so the ball moves too much.”

Along with hip dysplasia, Ernst also found out she had a torn labrum.

“After years and years of (your hip moving around) ... you can tear your labrum, which is cartilage around (the hip),” Stiles said. “You don’t see it a lot, but you see it.”

Typically, doctors recommend physical therapy to see if it will relieve the pain. If that doesn’t work, they have to perform surgery.

For Ernst, it came time to undergo surgery.

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She was lucky enough to schedule her surgery almost immediately following her MRI. There are only two doctors in Iowa who perform a combined surgery for hip dysplasia and a torn labrum.

“You don’t see a lot of surgeons that do a lot of labrum (surgeries),” Stiles said. “For a while, Iowa City didn’t have a surgeon for this. The surgeon we had left and we didn’t have anybody. You went to Des Moines or Minneapolis.”

Ernst decided to get the hip dysplasia and labrum surgeries at the same time, since they both had equal recovery times. She underwent a six-hour-long surgery in February and stayed the rest of the week in the hospital.

“Two or three months after surgery, I was able to get into the water again,” Ernst said. “I really just wanted to get in (the pool) and do what everyone else (was) doing.

“It was hard not being able to (swim).”

Gradually, Ernst was able to return to the pool more often, but she had to “pull.” Pulling is where a swimmer puts a pool buoy between their legs so they float. It’s a method for injured swimmers to begin practicing again using only their arms.

Along with pulling, Ernst attended more physical therapy sessions.

“I go to (the University of Iowa Health Care) Sports Medicine for (physical therapy),” Ernst said. “They have a pool there; it’s really weird because it’s a treadmill, but it’s underwater. I would run on it while (the pool) pushed jets on me.”

Following her many physical therapy sessions, Ernst began her recovery process months before she was supposed to and was able to compete in the state long course meet for her club team, iFly, in late July.

“I did (the 100 meter butterfly) and I was within (one) second of my best time, and I got third,” she said. “... I was really close to my best times in other races, which was great.”

After being fully cleared by her doctors in August, Ernst picked up swimming full-time again.

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West swim coach Byron Butler had high hopes for Ernst in the fall. During his junior swim season at the University of Iowa, he had to sit out most of the year due to an overuse hip injury. Though he never had surgery, he still can relate to what Ernst is going through.

“(Lily) is one of the hardest workers and having that much time off is difficult for her,” Butler said. “She’s incredibly competitive by nature and expects certain times and results immediately, and coming back from something that serious is a major process.”

Ernst, who may have to have surgery on her other hip due to more labrum tears, finished ninth at the state meet in the 200-yard individual medley. 11th in the 100 butterfly and swan on te third-place 400 freestyle relay.

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