Columbus East swimmer Olivia Hoeltke was dancing and enjoying life like any teenage girl when she jumped up and landed awkwardly on her ankle, putting her entire swimming season in jeopardy.

A usually low-risk activity left Hoeltke with a broken bone in her left leg, along with a spiral fracture, bruised bone and a sprained ankle less than three weeks before the start her sophomore season. She was forced to wear a thigh-high cast and became pretty depressed when she started facing the fact that her swim season just might be over before it even started.

But when it was time for her to switch to a smaller cast in December, Hoeltke was introduced to a waterproof one which allowed her to do what East coach Jill Arnholt thought was impossible.

“When I broke my leg, the first question I asked was, ‘Can I swim?'” Hoeltke said. “When I got my waterproof cast on, I was really happy because I could actually get back into the water.”

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Hoeltke could not compete with her waterproof cast but wasted no time getting back to practice with her team. Arnholt was hesitant of letting her practice, but after talking with the trainers and double checking with Hoeltke’s doctors, Arnholt became comfortable enough to bring her back on board. Hoeltke’s doctor informed her that getting back in the water would actually be therapeutic for her leg.

Hoeltke was so eager to get back in the pool that Arnholt had to tell her to take it easy when Hoeltke was already practicing flip turns and pushing off the wall almost immediately after she got back in the water. Swimming with the waterproof cast weighed Hoeltke down in the pool, so when she was finally took the cast off at the end of Christmas break, she noticed the difference immediately.

“When it got off, I felt as light as a feather and I just started swimming.” Hoeltke said. “It just felt awesome.”

Hoeltke’s leg still is not healed, and she is currently in a boot but has competed for the Olympians in their last three competitions. Arnholt had high expectations for Hoeltke, whose main events are the 200- and 500- yard freestyle, going into this year before she received the phone call about Hoeltke’s leg.

Hoeltke also had goals for herself coming into the season and was not going to let a broken leg stop her from working toward them. Although she is not back to 100 percent, she is still scoring points for East and is within 30 seconds of her best time last year in the 500 freestyle. Hoeltke has not used her injury as a crutch or an excuse, as she is still swimming in the fast lanes and competing well against the top talent.

When Hoeltke pushes off the wall during races, she still uses both feet, but puts more pressure on the stronger leg. That prevents her from feeling any pain, and she just pushes through it mentally when she has moments when her leg does bother her in the water.

“It’s just impressive and means a lot to me that she wants to work hard and wants to improve,” Arnholt said. “I was depending on her coming into this year to score points for us, and she’s stepping up to the challenge.”

Fighting through her broken leg has inspired the rest of the swimmers, and Hoeltke said she has received major support from her family and teammates during this process. Every now and then, she will have to to stop in the middle of practice because of the pain in her leg, and the team is always right by her side, giving her the encouragement and offering whatever assistance she needs.

Hoeltke said she could not make this step without her aunt April Hoeltke, who takes her to every practice and attends all of Olivia’s swim meets.

“I can only thank her so much,” Olivia said. “I want her to know how much I appreciate her.”

Hoeltke’s leg still is broken, but the bone is set in place and possibly could be healed by the time the Columbus North Sectional begins Thursday. She is hoping to be able to ditch the boot and is excited for what her swimming future looks like after her leg is healed.

“This kind of brought me closer to my team,” Hoeltke said. “I’ve come out a better person and swimmer because I push myself harder.”

Olivia Hoeltke

Name: Olivia Hoeltke

High school: Columbus East

Year: Sophomore

Sport: Swimming

Main Events: 200- and 500-yard freestlye

Upcoming: Columbus North sectional prelims (5:30 p.m. Thursday) and finals (1 p.m. Saturday)

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Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.