This trip to the state high school swimming championships was like no other for Monica Bottelberghe.
Sure, that championship thing was old hat. The Columbia River senior won the 200-yard freestyle championship in the Class 3A meet for a third consecutive year.
But never had she traveled so far, so fast. Never had getting to the finish line been such a pain in the neck.
"I never swam with my neck being so sore, but I was able to work through it," Bottelberghe said.
On Aug. 26 -- the same day of the first high school swim practice of the season -- the 17-year-old had surgery to remove her thyroid and 65 lymph nodes. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer four days earlier.
Recovery from the procedure shortened her final high school swim season. It wasn't until a couple of weeks before state, just in time for district competition, that Bottelberghe felt comfortable in the water.
When it came time to swim for her third 200 freestyle state title, Bottelberghe said she was not quite as confident as previous years. But she knew she had more big-race experience than the other finalists.
She led from start to finish. Her time of 1 minute, 50.6 seconds in the state finals was her fastest this season, not far off her all-time best of 1:49.8.
"I was definitely really relieved when I looked up at the board," she said of realizing she had won the race. "I was actually kind of shocked with how fast I was."
When school started, Bottelberghe could not yet turn her head. But physical therapy, which continues, increased the mobility and strength in her neck and upper torso.
Bottelberghe is training with her Portland Aquatic Club team, but isn't sure when she will next compete. In January, she is scheduled to undergo radiation treatment.
She is looking forward to joining sister Jessica next fall on the Boise State swimming team. But she is not yet finished making an impact at Columbia River. She and Rory Nordquist are participating in the Mr. and Miss Columbia River fund-raiser, working to raise at least $20,000 for Doernbecher Children's Hospital.
Her own health challenge makes the project more personal for Bottelberghe.
"I'm really excited to give back that way," she said.
ALL-REGION GIRLS SWIMMING TEAM
Swimmer of the year
Monica Bottelberghe, sr., Columbia River
The Class 3A Greater St. Helens League swimmer of the year, Bottelberghe by winning her third state title in the 200 freestyle. She also swam to a third-place finish at state in the 100 freestyle. She will swim for Boise State next year.
Rest of All-Region team
- LIVI COX, SO., UNION: Cox placed 12th in the 200 individual medley and 15th in the 100 breaststroke at the 4A staet meet. He also won district titles in both events. And she swam for two scoring relays at state.
- KEIKO INOUYE, JR., PRAIRIE: Inouye placed 14th in the 100 backstroke at the 3A state meet and qualified for state in the 100 butterfly. She also won district titles in both events.
- ANNA PANEBIANCO, JR., CAMAS: Panebianco placed ninth in the 100 backstroke at the 4A state meet and won a district title in the 200 freestyle. She also swam on two relays that scored points at state
- JULIEANNE REED, SR., CAMAS: The 4A GSHL swimmer of the year placed seventh in the 100 freestyle and 16th in the 50 freestyle at the 4A state meet. She won district titles at both events and swam on two relays at state.
- DARYA SAMIEE, JR., MOUNTAIN VIEW: Samiee placed fifth in the 500 frestyle and seventh in the 200 individual medley at the 3A state meet. She also swam for two district title-winning relays.
- MARISSA YOUNG, SO., UNION: Young placed 15th in the 100 backstroke at the 4A state meet and won a district title in the 500 freestyle. And she swam for two scoring relays at state.