Fresh off a Narrows League championship last year on a Friday night, the Gig Harbor High School girls swimming team was riding a wave of momentum, excited to get into the pool to prepare for the district meet.
The following day, the Tides met at the pool, focused and determined. But one person was missing — Julia Lobdell.
“We noticed that Julia hadn’t come to practice yet,” head coach Mike Kelly said. “Then we got a call saying there was a bad accident on Fox Island, and they asked if everybody made it to practice. So that made me wonder even more.
“I left a couple phone messages with Julia’s cellphone to see if she was all right and coming to practice, and never heard anything.”
Kelly was notified later that afternoon that Lobdell had been involved in a severe wreck.
“It was a head-on collision,” Lobdell, now a senior, said last week. “I ran into a truck in my little car. Basically the front end of the car was pushed up against me.”
Lobdell was unconscious until a bystander revived her, and she waited for paramedics to arrive.
“He came and tried to calm me down and hold my neck up and stuff,” Lobdell said. “It was actually really relaxing, which sounds weird, but I wasn’t scared or anything. It took them about half an hour to cut me out of the car.”
Lobdell sustained several injuries, including losing parts of her knees, sliced tendons and a broken jaw.
Kelly said the news was shocking and horrifying.
“It was pretty heart-wrenching,” Kelly said. “All these kids are kind of like my own daughters, and you never want to see anything bad happen to them, let alone something as horrific as the accident that was described to me. I knew that she was really close to being lost. So I just said my prayers and, thankfully, through some long weeks of suffering, she did recover. She’s still recovering today.”
Kailee Drugge, Lobdell’s teammate, said the news affected her deeply.
“I was just shocked,” Drugge said. “I didn’t know what to think. I immediately called her dad and was like, ‘What’s happening?’ I was trying to keep myself composed so that I didn’t think the worst. It was just really hard, because she’s one of my best friends, and I don’t know what I would do without her.”
The team was emotionally taxed, but they wanted to stay strong for Lobdell. They made T-shirts with Lobdell’s face on them for the district meet, and they included the words: “One Love, Jammin’ for Julia.”
The team visited Lobdell in the hospital early and often, hung up several posters around her room and filled her table with get-well cards.
“All my teammates came and supported me and showed me shirts that they had made,” Lobdell said. “I was honored. It was great.”
The team used the emotional pain as a source of inspiration. They wanted to win for Julia.
“We knew there was nothing we could do for her,” Kelly said. “That was in the hands of the medical team that took care of her. What we could do to show our appreciation for her was to kind of focus on our races that were coming up.”
Drugge said the team struggled to regain its composure mentally, but they wanted to perform well for their friend.
“It was really difficult because we had practice, but mentally we weren’t there because it was so much different without her,” Drugge said. “But we knew that she was supporting us regardless, and we made the shirts, so she was still there in spirit, so it was really nice.”
On the day of district preliminary heats, the team got a surprise.
“She was adamant with her mom that she needed to be out in front of the school when we left to get on the bus,” Kelly said of Lobdell. “We all shed some tears and found out that she was gonna make it, and we were all happy for that. It really gave people some extra fire to do well at the district championships.”
Lobdell’s road to recovery hasn’t been easy. After her hospital stint, she had to attend months of rehab. Competitive swimming probably wasn’t on her mind. A bigger challenge awaited her first.
“I had to go to physical therapy and learn how to walk again,” she said. “It was really hard at first. My balance was way off, and I couldn’t bend my knees or anything. It was hard, but it got easier.”
Lobdell credited her ability to remain positive during physical therapy to the support of her friends and her family.
“My mom took a couple months off work to basically hand-feed me,” Lobdell said. “She tended to me day in and day out. My sister, Jackie, flew in from Chicago right after she heard the news to help.”
Kelly, who described Lobdell as sweet, caring and genuine, said he thought Lobdell’s swimming career was over.
“If you had seen the list of her injuries, and if you’ve seen the scars on her body — her jaw was wired shut, her knees were both damaged severely — she had rods and pins and more metal in her than a scrap yard,” Kelly said.
But after several months of rehab, Lobdell learned how to walk again, and with astounding resiliency, she’s found her way back into the pool.
“What can I say?” Drugge said. “She’s a fighter. She’ll make it through anything. She’s the strongest person I know. I’m really proud of her for what she’s done and how she’s come through with what she loves to do.”
Lobdell credits her recovery to the outpouring of love and support from her family, friends and her teammates.
“They’re everything,” she said. “I come here every day for them. I wouldn’t be here without them, so I owe them a lot.”
Reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.