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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Battling the current

Photo by Photo by Kevin Chou

After growing up as one of the top breaststrokers in the nation. senior Jonathan Tybur experienced a major setback that altered his path. 

By age 14, Jonathan Tybur was one of the top breaststrokers in the nation. The College Park High School student was even training for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.
That is, until an ulcerative colitis diagnosis ended those dreams, forcing him to eventually settle for a non-scholarship walk-on spot on the Aggie swim team.
Despite the early setbacks to his swimming career, Tybur, now a Texas A&M senior, has fought back to re-earn his spot as one of the top breaststrokers in the country, earning 16th place in the 100-breast at the NCAA Championships this past March, and recently, a spot on the 2017-18 U.S. National Team.
On Thursday, Oct. 26, Tybur was honored with the Courageous Student-Athlete Award at the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS) Giant Steps Awards Banquet in Orlando, Florida.
“It came as quite a bit of a shock,” Tybur said. “It’s pretty prestigious to even make the nominations and to find out that I had won, it was pretty amazing.”
In January of his sophomore year of high school, Tybur began experiencing the symptoms synonymous with ulcerative colitis: Severe abdominal pain, swollen joints, bleeding ulcers lining his large intestine and bloody stools. After an 11-day hospital stay, doctors confirmed the diagnosis.
Tybur said his physicians originally contemplated removing his colon, but upon discovering his passion for competitive swimming, opted instead for medication as a means of treatment. The medication offered just as many side effects as the symptoms they treated, though, ultimately leaving Tybur 30 pounds lighter.
Because of the weight loss that led to a decline in strength and endurance, he had to alter his swimming technique.
“That was one of the key things, learning how to swim efficiently,” Tybur said. “I was one of the top breaststrokers in the country as a 13, 14-year-old and part of my freshman year, and to then go all the way back down to the bottom and to be able to climb back up later in my college career was pretty surreal.”
The rise to college dominance began during Tybur’s senior year of high school when A&M men’s swimming head coach Jay Holmes entered the scene.
“I remember meeting Jay and we sat down, we talked,” Tybur said. “I kind of explained my whole story and all of the stuff that had happened. ‘If you give me a spot on this team, I’ll try my best every single day.’”
Despite chances a flare-up could end Tybur’s college career, Holmes took a chance on him and allowed him to join the team as a preferred walk-on, which gave Tybur a guaranteed spot on the team but not a scholarship.
“His club coach, Tim Bauer from The Woodlands, and I had several conversations about Jonathan,” Holmes said. “Tim knew he would be a risk for us to take just from the health issues that he’s got, and Tim’s message all along was, if he stays healthy, he will be a great point-scorer for you. I just took Tim’s word for it.”
That risk has obviously paid off and Tybur has managed to stay relatively healthy. He even earned a scholarship after tallying personal bests in three events at the SEC Championships his freshman season. Since then, Tybur has been named a team captain twice.
“The thing is with ulcerative colitis, it’s not a one-time disease,” Tybur said. “You have it for the rest of your life and it can reoccur at any time, so there’s no guarantee. I could show up on the first day and have a flare-up, and that’s it. The coaches didn’t know what they were going to get, and I’m very thankful they were able to give me the opportunity.”
A year into his journey, Tybur became a mentor to a boy he met while they were both participating in a trial study for a new medication to combat their shared disease. He also keeps in contact with a family in the Bryan-College Station area whose son was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis about a year ago.
“I know it can be really a bit of a struggle for the parents,” Tybur said. “When you’re in a flare or whenever it’s bad, it doesn’t ever seem like there’s an end in sight. It just kind of seems like it’s perpetuating and it’s really quite awful, so I speak with them about my experiences going through it and just try and bring as much comfort as I can.”
Despite the success and accolades, Tybur maintains that, at the end of the day, he is simply one thing: Jonathan Tybur.
“I kind of see myself as just the guy who likes to swim and enjoys studying geology,” Tybur said. “I just kind of see myself as a regular person. For someone to reach out and want to talk to me about my experiences, it’s just amazing as well as humbling.”

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  • Senior Jonathan Tybur is a part of the 2017-2018 U.S. National Team. 

    Photo by Photo by Kevin Chou
  • Senior Jonathan Tybur received the Courageous Student-Athlete Award at the NCAS Giant Steps Award Banquet in Orlando, Florida. 

    Photo by Photo by Kevin Chou
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