Sports Gazette: Water Polo’s Maddy Johnston Plays as an Outlet from Depression, Dysnomia

Michigan sophomore Maddy Johnston cites water polo as her relief from her battles with dysnomia and deperssion. Sports Gazette has the story.

By Thomas Kaiser

he was only two months old at the time, but Maddy Johnston was already in her element — the swimming pool. The San Francisco native joked that she initially floated and blew bubbles during her lessons, but fast forward 20 years, and she is now a vital member of the Michigan Wolverines Water Polo team.

Those two decades have not been smooth sailing for Johnston however. Indeed, from a young age, she was diagnosed with dysnomia, a learning disability that makes it difficult to remember names or recall words from memory.

But, when she plays water polo she feels liberated, she told the Sports Gazette.

Johnston said: “It takes my mind away from everything else and I can just focus on the game, even when you’re ‘resting’ in the pool you are still staying afloat or eggbeater-ing, so you’re always using energy, getting the endorphins going. I always feel good after and it can be pretty fun to play a physical sport.”

Prior to water polo, Johnston was a swimmer, but for her, “swimming included staring at a black line” which she did not enjoy, whereas she loves water polo because,”it includes swimming, wrestling and scoring on a cage like soccer, and exclusions/power plays like hockey.”

Johnston’s decision to switch to water polo was a terrific one, because she is a talented player. She won gold at the 2015 Pan American Games in Kingston, Jamaica. In 2015 and 2016, she competed for the USA Youth National Team, and at the 2016 Youth World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand she finished fifth.

Unfortunately for Johnston, a severe injury as a freshman at Michigan have diminished her chances of moving up through the national team’s pipeline to the senior teams.

She recalls tearing her UCL — ulnar collateral ligament — in her elbow. “I was in the middle of a counter attack and I got tangled up with this one girl, and she pushed my elbow up and in, as if you were to try and touch your elbow to your opposite ear.”

Johnston has also suffered a couple of concussions in her life, a common occurrence in the sport. “Normally it’s an elbow or the ball from someone’s shot,” she explained.

In addition to having dysnomia, Johnston also suffers from depression and is currently being tested for ADD (attention deficit disorder.)

She said: “Doctors are thinking it wasn’t diagnosed earlier because depression was in combination with that.”

While water polo helps her escape from those daily troubles, she still faces judgement from people around her. “Since I’ve been through a lot most people know more than a few tidbits, but a few see it as offering up excuses to be special or to receive certain attention.”

Read the rest of the story on Sports Gazette.