Lewiston High School senior swimmer Elijah Escobar is working his way back from a punctured lung. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Lewiston swimmer Elijah Escobar is coming off an impressive junior year in the pool.

At the state championship, Escobar finished seventh in the backstroke with a time of 1:00.44. He was 12th in the 50-meter freestyle (23.89) and helped the Blue Devils take 10th in the 400 freestyle relay and a 12th in the 200 relay.

Escobar also finished second at the KVAC championships in the 100 backstroke with a time of 59.03.

Things were looking for Escobar’s senior season.

Then this summer he hit a speed bump.

“I was just standing talking to a couple of friends and I turned to the left – I felt a sharp pain in my chest, back and left shoulder,” Escobar said. “The next thing I know, I am in a lot of pain and I had to go to the hospital.”

Escobar was diagnosed with a punctured lung, which forced him to cease all physical activity for three months. His doctors told him punctured lungs aren’t uncommon for people with tall, lean and athletic bodies, such as his. Escobar had a couple of air bubbles on his lungs and one popped.

He was allowed to return to the pool Monday to work his way back into swimming shape for his senior season.

“It has been very difficult (to prepare for the season),” Escobar said. “I wasn’t allowed to do any physical activity. I (couldn’t) really prepare (for the season), it has gotten me a little worried, but once I get into things, I will be able to start out pretty strong.”

The Blue Devils first meet is Friday when they travel to the Alfond Center in Waterville to take on Messalonskee. Escobar believes that after the first few meets he will be near or back to full strength.

Lewiston coach Troy Boutin, though, doesn’t want Escobar to force anything and wants him to be healthy and, hopefully, at full strength later in the season, especially in February for the KVAC and state championships.

“Personally, I don’t feel like there’s any rush for Elijah to feel like he should start putting up personal best times the first couple of weeks,” Boutin said. “We are certainly working in conjunction with Elijah’s doctor and Elijah. But I think starting out, building up conditioning, getting used to that type of performance — then working on the strength and power in the pool once he gets done with basic conditioning.

“I know Elijah is going to want to perform quickly and maybe that’s my job as a coach to help balance that. He’s got a number of years of swimming ahead of him beyond high school, if he wants. I just want this to be a good experience for him.”

Boutin said Escobar is easy to coach because Escobar has the desire to push himself and to do his best with the challenges that are put in front of him. Escobar credited Boutin’s coaching for helping him achieve the results he did last season.

There is also that mental side to Escobar’s injury since the lungs are obviously a big part of swimming because swimmers must hold their breath. It’s a hurdle that Escobar believes he can overcome thanks to muscle memory.

While Boutin has never experienced a punctured lung, he has looked into it.

“I know his lung capacity is going to be reduced, just because he hasn’t been working out as much,” Boutin said. “His aerobics is going to be less. I don’t know at the moment what he should expect in terms of discomfort as he starts working out again. Just the apprehension of the fact of he went through this ordeal is going to be present when he’s racing.

“In swimming it’s really a technically proficient sport that the mental game is extremely important because it only takes a few yards of a broken stroke to throw you off from a best time or a finish that you are not all happy with.”

Once Escobar gets back into swimming shape, he’ll chase the goals he has set for this year, such as recording personal bests.

“I think I will be able to achieve my goals that I set for myself at the beginning of the season,” Escobar said. “I don’t see this as (a barrier). I see this as another step to my swimming career. It was a little mishap, but I think I am going to be able to get back to where I was before.”

Escobar said he’s going to miss racing against Edward Little’s Brandon Whiteman, who graduated. But he’s also looking forward to competing against new challengers this season.

Boutin wants to see Escobar to get better at controlling his emotions because he can lose his form a bit if he gets overly excited. Boutin said if Escobar can maintain his composure during races he will be able to cut time and achieve those personal bests.

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