Westin Stieglitz thought it was just a headache.
It was more like a massive, debilitating migraine that felled the Cheyenne Mountain senior swimmer.
By the third trip to the emergency room in a span of three days last September, Stieglitz’s mom, Cathy, knew something was terribly wrong with her son.
“He doesn’t complain about stuff,” she said. “When something terrible starts to unfold, you as a parent live minute by minute. By the third time, I wouldn’t leave the ER until they figured it out, and looking at the X-rays, it’s pretty scary stuff when it’s your kid. He’s looking at me and just wants the pain to go away. I don’t think he realized how serious it was.”
It wasn’t a headache that was bothering Stieglitz, who competed in the prelims of Friday's Class 4A boys' swimming and diving prelims.
The blood clot on his brain took three surgeries at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to delicately and completely dissolve. He spent two weeks in the intensive care unit, then overcame an allergy to his blood thinner medication that took a toll on his immune system.
After four weeks, Stieglitz finally returned to school, and the pool, and hoped he had enough time to recover and finish his prep career like the Stieglitz of old.
And there he was Friday during preliminaries at the state championships at the U.S. Air Force Academy, pretty much looking like the Stieglitz who qualified for five championship finals over his first three years at Cheyenne Mountain.
His times in the 200-yard freestyle and 100 freestyle weren’t quite good enough to put him into the championship events Saturday, but he didn’t seem too disappointed by making the consolation finals in both.
“I think I made a pretty good comeback from being in the hospital for a month,” Stieglitz said. “I thought I’d be back to hitting my best times by now. I can work through this, and I definitely respect my competition. Everybody keeps getting better and better, and that motivates me through all of this.”
As if recovering from brain surgery weren’t enough, Stieglitz later contracted a mononucleosis-type illness in February that put him out of school for two more weeks and took another sizable chunk out of his training regimen.
But after Friday’s competition – he did swim the third leg of the preliminary-best 400 freestyle relay team – all that adversity seemed to have paid dividends.
Then again, the bigger picture doesn’t exactly include swimming.
“I’m just glad he’s healthy and doing well,” Cathy said. “It’s been a rocky year for the kid, but he’s got a good attitude and he’s excited about college and his future in engineering. I’m proud of the amazing things that he’s done.”
Stieglitz plans to walk on to the swim team at Utah, where he’ll hopefully reunite with former club teammate and high school rival Tommy Baker, an Air Academy graduate.
“I think by the end of the summer, I’ll be back to hitting my best times,” Stieglitz said. “I’m very happy about committing to Utah. They’re in the Pac-12 and have a great engineering department. I’m psyched to go into that and have a career after I’m done. Swimming is a big part of my life, but I know I’m not going to swim (competitively) forever.”