Bixby’s Kendall Stieben is living proof that when one door closes, another one opens.
When Stieben began her high school athletic career, she quickly became one of the area’s top cross country and track and field runners. She finished 11th at the 6A cross country championships her freshman year and backed it up with Top 12 finishes in the 800, 1600 and 3200 meters that spring at the state track meet.
When her sophomore year rolled around, Stieben began having a lot of discomfort in her knee. It got to the point where she was in excruciating pain after finishing a race.
“We think it was an overuse injury due to running,” said the Spartan senior. “I have what’s called Snapping Bicep Femoral Tendon Syndrome, which basically means my hamstring tendon was torn off the bone, so whenever I would try to bend my knee it would pop out of place.”
Stieben started swimming in middle school simply as an activity to stay in shape in between running seasons. Her times continued to improve, and as her knee injury worsened, she made the decision to focus her athletic efforts in the pool.
Good thing for the Spartan swimming program.
Despite the knee injury, she was still able to finish third in the 50 free and 100 free last year at the state meet and medal in two relays.
It’s a testament to Stieben’s toughness that she was able to swim competitively at all. She was unable to do any weight training out of the pool, so she elected to have surgery last March in order to have time to recover for her senior swim season.
“I would go to physical therapy two to three times a week, then I would do the exercises on my own at home two times a day,” recalled Stieben, who is class valedictorian and has committed to swim at SMU following graduation. “I couldn’t kick because of my knee, but I would get in the water with a pull buoy between my legs and swim back and forth. I was in the water quite a bit last summer, but I couldn’t do the workouts my teammates were doing.”
“She was out of the water for a few months and did a lot of rehab and stuff,” said fifth-year Bixby coach Christa Thompson. “She worked really hard to get back in shape. It hasn’t really affected her at all. She’s done really well.”
All of that hard work has paid off for Stieben and the Spartans. They recently competed at the 6A Swimming Regionals and finished second behind the favored Jenks Trojans. Stieben finished first in the 100 free and the 200 medley relay. She also recorded solid second place finishes in the 50 free and the 400 free relay.
“It wasn’t my best performance of the season,” admitted Stieben, who’s also a member of the Trident Aquatics club team. “We had a lot of meets in January. Considering I hadn’t had a lot of rest going into the meet, I’m pretty pleased with how I did. I think I have a lot more to give at state.”
“I was really happy with our relays,” added Stieben, who swam the anchor leg in the 200 medley relay. “Pulling off the win against Jenks in the 200 medley (along with senior Kayley Henderson, sophomore Leah Wagner and junior Savannah Jacoway) was really exciting because we’ve been going head to head with them the whole season.”
It may take a supernatural performance for Bixby to overtake a deep and talented Jenks squad at the 6A state meet, but the Spartans are going to give it all they’ve got.
“The senior girls have been focused on this for four years now,” said Thompson. “They’ve put a lot into it. They’ve trained really hard. Many of the underclassmen have trained harder this year and they’ve improved a lot from where they were last year. I’m encouraged that the girls will do really well.”
The 2020 OSSAA Swimming Championships will be held February 21-22 in Jenks.