The road from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to the Olympic Marathon
In 2002 Jonathan Swiatocha was 10 years old and traveling with his family when they were hit by a underage drunk driver. The driver impacted the side of the Swiatocha’s family van while traveling over 80 MPH. The accident left him with a TBI and paralyzed for 12 days. More can be read about Jonathan’s accident and recovery here.
What I found fascinating about Jonathan’s story was that he was not “just” recovering…Jonathan’s goal is to excel right into the Olympics.
Q. I read that you walked 12 days after your TBI, when did you first think about playing or running again?
Answer: When I first got released from the hospital, I wanted to go back and play with the other kids! What ten year old wouldn’t? It was at least couple years later when I really thought about playing sports again.
Q. Were you a runner/athlete prior to the accident?
Answer: Yes, I was an athlete before the crash! I played soccer, basketball, baseball, etc..
Q. Did the accidents side effects/after effects effect your ability to run, play and partake in sports as a youth?
Answer: Yes, Doctors told me when I got released from outpatient therapy to not jump right into things especially sports but they told me that I could never play contact sports like football, hockey, soccer, etc… But that was ok because I developed a passion and love for the sport of running!
Q. At what part of your recovery did the doctors suggest you get back to running/sports?
Answer: The doctors really didn’t know if I would’ve been able to go back and play sports. Because of the severity of my brain injury and being so young, they didn’t know how my injury would affect me as I got older, that part was a mystery…
Q. Did that step of recovery come with any additional challenges?
Answer: The challenges that I faced were really more mental and emotional because that part of my brain was the side that was damaged! Problem solving, cognition, memory, mood swings, behavioral problems, conversing with my peers were the major challenges I faced.
One point that really impressed me with your story is that you seemed to accept your challenges and not get upset at life, your luck and or at God. I hope that I could accept it in the same light as you did but honestly, I could see myself being very upset, at least for a short time.
Q. What advice would you offer someone who may be waking up today facing a major health challenge?
Answer: My advice is to first put your faith and trust in God and let him fight the battle your in! If you do that, I promise you will be victorious!!! Stay humble, stay positive and believe that everything will be ok.
The Olympics…..now that is a goal.
Tell us a little about your running resume.
Q. When did your first realize you had the talent for the Olympic stage?
Answer: When I decided to stop running for school, I was in a really dark place in my life! Physically, emotionally, spiritually, so I needed to go back to where I was comfortable. My dad started to coach me and as I started to train under him; I found that I was getting stronger not just in running but in every area of my life! I set a goal, declared it and have believed that I will achieve it every single day! Where or when I achieve it, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m closer to becoming the 1st Olympic runner with a TBI than I was yesterday!
Q. You’re aiming at running the marathon, what made you select that distance? Or did the marathon select you?
Answer: The marathon is a race that is not just about being physically strong it’s mental! It’s an event that’s not for the faint of heart and I’ve always been a runner that can excel more at the longer distances rather than the shorter ones.
Q. How has your training been going? How close are you to an Olympic qualifying time?
Answer: My training has been going well! The one thing about having a goal to qualify for the Olympics is that it’s a process, everything has to come together: training, health, race, course, conditions, weather, nutrition, etc… So for me, since I’m only 24 years old were taking things one day at a time! I’m closer than I was yesterday.
Q. How has your TBI affected this goal, your training or desire?
Answer: My TBI has effected my goal more in a positive way because of the impact it has on people when I share it with them! My training is long and strenuous at times but if you want to be a world class athlete, you have to train like one. For a long time, I let my TBI keep me from reaching my highest potential but no more! I made a vow not to live by fear, anger or pride and live my life by faith and faith alone! I guess you can say I have a strong desire and hunger to reach my goal.
Q. What does a typical training week look like?
Sunday – Long run
Monday – Recovery run
Tuesday – AM Speed workout/ strength and conditioning + PM Recovery run
Wednesday – Easy run
Thursday – AM Speed workout + PM strength and conditioning
Friday – Easy run
Saturday – Rest or Easy run
Noticed your writing a book.
Q. How is that coming along?
Answer: Yes, I’m officially writing my first book right now! It’s going great, it’s a process but I believe that the finished product will be something very, very special!!!
Myself I’m writing a fictional running story, I know firsthand how intense the writing process can be. Best of luck with that project, it just may be harder than qualifying for the Olympics.
Loved this quote on your FaceBook page:
“Strength doesn’t come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
Q. Is that a Jonathan original or did you borrow it from someone?
Answer: Thank you, it’s a quote from someone else that I saw and was really inspired by it!
Thank you so much for your time, I’m sure your experience and recovery will help others. I’m sure you’ll agree recovery may just be the first step. After recovery there’s the rest of your life and other goals and your story highlights to not just be satisfied with recovery excel in life after recovery.
Any last words you would like to share with my readers?
Answer: If you’ve been inspired by my story and want to follow my journey, please feel free to follow me on social media! To all my brothers and sisters living with TBI, don’t give up! Don’t give in! Your life has meaning and your alive today for a reason! You can and will overcome what your going through right now, I know because I’m overcoming it! And you can too.
More can be seen on Jonathan’s marathon journey on this video interview: on NBCDFW.com
Thanks again and good luck keep us posted on your road to the Olympics.