BYU swimming: Ciera Marsh savors chance to compete
At first, her heart wasn't in it.
Despite her older sister Adelin's pleas, Ciera Marsh just wasn't sure she wanted to spend her time swimming laps in a pool.
Then her heart decided to make the decision for her.
During a routine physical before her freshman year at Kearns High, doctors discovered Ciera had an enlarged aorta, a condition that thins the walls of the largest valve in the heart. Because excessive exertion could cause the valve to burst, doctors told her she no longer could compete.
Suddenly, there was nothing she wanted more.
"It was like someone had [taken] dreams away I didn't even know I had," she said. "I was a mess."
Still, Ciera stayed in the water, swimming with a slower group of kids at practice. She looked up to Adelin, then a junior at Kearns. She became resigned to the fact that she'd never race again.
Then the inexplicable occurred.
Five months after her initial diagnosis, doctors told Ciera her aortic valve had shrunk. The measurement still was slightly dilated, but it was within the realm of normal.
"It shouldn't have happened that way," Adelin said. "Our family viewed it as a miracle."
So with both of her hearts in agreement, Ciera took it back to the pool. Weeks later, she won the region title in the 100- and 200-meter freestyle, followed by a second- and fourth-place performance at the state meet. She was a state champion by her senior year.
"She's just so talented," Adelin said. "Nothing is holding her back."
The next three years told an inspirational story of success despite the odds. Ciera kept winning, often beating her older sister. When Adelin decided to join the team at BYU, Ciera decided that's what she wanted, too.
"We propelled each other to be better," Adelin said. "As her older sister, even when she beat me, it was so awesome to have her follow in my footsteps and see her succeed."
But the setbacks weren't over.
Though doctors cleared Ciera to compete at the high-school level, they were sure the rigors of Division I competition would be too much for her heart to handle.
Ciera again faced the possibility of life without swimming.
"I'd always found some way around it," she said. "But I had to realize if I wasn't able to swim in college, that would be OK, too."
The draw of competition proved too strong, so Ciera made a bargain with the BYU coaches.
"I asked them if they'd let me swim if I passed a physical," she said.
So Ciera headed back to the doctor. After much talk and plenty of recommended restrictions, she again was cleared to swim.
"The day she joined me on the team was the best day of my life," Adelin said.
Still, it's been a careful journey. Ciera avoids weight training, which puts undue stress on her heart. Even as a sprint swimmer, she tries to avoid too much work in the anaerobic zone.
In spite of all the restrictions, Ciera has excelled. She placed sixth in the 200 backstroke at the MPSF Championships last weekend, scoring a point for the Cougars with a time of 2 minutes, 1.64 seconds.
"I'm just so amazed to have this opportunity to do something I love and do it well," she said. "I always try to keep the big picture in mind."
She knows she should take it easy.
"Once I hit the water in the race, I sort of just go for it," Ciera said. "I trust [my doctors], but I also trust myself."
Even more obstacles lie ahead for Ciera.
For now, she's focused on finding more success at the conference level. More important, she's focused on the moments that once were impossibilities.
"I hope I can give someone else hope, that you can find some way around your obstacles," she said. "And even if you can't, life goes on."