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Swimming with ripped tendon, muscle and bone, 14-year-old wins state title with Holy Cross

Drew Launey's injury was so painful that he had to be carried out of the pool by teammates.

NEW ORLEANS — A teenage boy decided that the accomplishments and memories of his swim meets were more important than the pain he was suffering from an injury, so he decided to do something about it.

Now, his doctor is using his story of resilience to help other young patients.

In the last several weeks, Drew Launey taught his fellow students at Holy Cross more than they could ever learn in a classroom.

Ever since Drew was diagnosed at the age of five with a skin disease, he wanted to swim competitively. Now, only in eighth grade, he made it on the Holy Cross varsity team. But just two weeks before the state championship meet, his dream of helping his teammates win their fourth state title in a row was shattered.

“I knew something was wrong when I couldn't run,” recounts Launey, 14. 

Playing kickball, he ripped the tendon, muscle, and a piece of bone from his pelvic bone growth plate. Without his points in the pool, the team could not win. 

“I didn't want to let my team down, so I kept trying to get better, and just kept working because I wanted to swim for my team and my school,” he said.

Teammates knew Drew was a vital member. 

“And when I heard the news, it wasn't good news,” said James Womack, a Holy Cross senior and swim team captain. 

But Coach Dale Turner mixed his faith with Drew's resilience.

“Something told me that you know, don't give up. Put him in. Something's going to happen,” said Holy Cross Head Swim Coach Dale Turner, who is also a physics and math teacher. 

A week before the swim meet, Tulane pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Timothy Skalak told Drew he could swim, but it would be very painful.

“I'll be the first to admit, I was a little nervous when I saw the pictures about people helping him out of the pool,” recalls Dr. Skalak, an associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Tulane, and a staff surgeon at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. 

Drew practiced. The pain was excruciating. He relearned how to dive off of the block, make turns, and worked on upper body strength in case he could not kick in the pool and only use his arms.

And then in Sulphur, Louisiana, Drew finished with more points than predicted. Holy Cross brought home the state title trophy.

“It was awesome seeing him in there. He actually swam faster than me, which I thought was insane,” said Womack. 

Swim team captain James Womack got to do what only seniors can do, ring the school’s victory bell.

“It was very emotional. I shed my fair share of tears, and I definitely, I was so proud of Drew,” said Womack. 

Coach says every student learned a lesson.

“This is what a Holy Cross man is. You fight and you fight for your teammates and you fight for your school,” said Turner.

Dr. Skalak asked Drew to write his story down, to give hope to the many children he treats at Children's Hospital, who, at times, feel like giving up.

“Having that experience and being able to share that story, I think gives tremendous courage to other kids who might be going through the same thing,” said Dr. Skalak.

“I was feeling that I just didn't want us to lose because I wanted the seniors to win on their last year,” said Launey. 

Back in class today, the lesson is on humility, seen through the eyes of the ancient Greeks, but that lesson from years B.C. was being played out by a 14-year-old classmate in real-time.

Drew still has some pain from the pelvic fracture that happened in November, but he is expected to make a full recovery.

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