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Sport

Not even brain surgery will stop Matt

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Six weeks after having double brain surgery, 16-year-old South African national junior swimmer, Matt Carrol, is ready to compete at the 2022 Maccabi Games in July.

This Grade 11 student at Herzlia High School in Cape Town was struggling with headaches, “when in January, we discovered that he had an enormous cyst about the size of a large peach on the frontal lobe of his brain”, says his mom, Gila, Team Maccabi South Africa’s swimming convenor. “The doctor said, ‘Just leave it, it’s nothing to be worried about.’ In April, it ruptured. He was taken into an emergency craniotomy on 26 April. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

“On 10 May, he was rushed into emergency VP [ventriculoperitoneal] shunt brain surgery, so he now has a VP shunt. It’s a valve at the back of his head which runs all the way down his shoulder, across his chest, into his stomach. It’s permanent. It’s extremely rare in this case because he’s 16 years old, and it’s never really used for this reason. It’s pretty unbelievable. We thought he was out. The physician said to him, ‘Your competitive swimming is over.’ He said, ‘No, I’m going to the Maccabi Games.’”

Now, Carrol is looking forward to performing well in his 12 swims in the open category though he’s unsure if he’ll be able to add to the 102 medals South Africa has received for swimming. “I don’t know how tough the competition is going to be, but I know that within my squad, I can do pretty well,” he says.

When he was in Grade 8, some of his friends went to the European Maccabi Games. “Since then, I wanted to go for swimming,” says Carrol. “I’ve been training six, seven times a week for the past few months.”

“He feels fine generally,” Gila says. “He swam his first gala last week. He swam ridiculously fast.”

There, Carrol’s coach, whom he describes as his mentor, said, “I can’t actually believe what I’m seeing.”

Carrol started swimming competitively in Grade 6. “I was doing lots of other sports. I just really enjoyed swimming. I liked the competitiveness and how hard you had to train to succeed. Since then, swimming has been my main sport.”

His message for those facing obstacles is, “It’s tough, but there’s really nothing that can stop you from getting where you want to be. When I found out I needed surgery, it was disheartening, especially so close to the competition, but I got through it, rested a bit, and got back into training. Now I’m back to full fitness and being the best I can be.”

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