Playing for his dreams on his last leg
Two broken fibulas. Countless hours spent in rehabilitation. Months later, senior Jasper Wang has waded his way back into peak physical condition in pursuit of his competitive water polo dream.
Ever since he joined the varsity water polo team, Wang has been honing his game under varsity coach Tyler Watkins, a longtime friend of Wang who founded Racers. While on the team, Wang has garnered numerous awards as its center guard, including all-league first team and two-time league champion.
“In the past, I always wanted to fight and compete to get to the top, but as of right now, we look out for each other. That’s why I believe we will win California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) in the upcoming season,” Wang said. “We just assist the weakest of one another to reach everyone’s potential.”
Wang has been playing competitive club water polo, since he was in middle school, at clubs such as Racers, Raptors and Foothill, as well as learning the sport under the tutelage of coaches from water polo universities. He spends 15 hours per week practicing at the clubs in addition to participating in numerous tournaments, which have ultimately culminated in his acceptance to the varsity water polo team at Walnut sophomore year.
“I was super happy, because I wasn’t expecting to jump from freshman to varsity. Thinking back on it though, because of the effort I put in, I think I deserved to be on the team,” Wang said. “My sophomore year, the chemistry was really good, and we had a lot of experienced seniors. When I joined, I wanted to be captain; I wanted to be the best player.”
Despite the amount of intense training he received from both club and school water polo, a competitive itch caused Wang to seek even more outside conditioning in order to help his body reach peak physical shape. In July 2019, while ice skating as a form of conditioning, Wang suffered a right fibula injury after an awkward fall on the skating rink.
“I was in my top shape, but I decided to go ice skating for conditioning, because it always makes me work a lot. While skating, I fell multiple times, and I should’ve taken that as an indicator to stop,” Wang said. As a result, I learned a lesson after ignoring my falls and broke my fibula in half. At that time, I was overweight, so my fibula completely cracked in half to the point where it needed some screws and plates.”
After the injury, Wang’s family immediately sought for an orthopedic surgeon that could help Wang recover in time for California Interscholastic Federation playoffs; however, no surgeon they met could offer a window which met the desirable date. Weeks after searching for a surgeon, Wang’s family visited the University of Southern California and found an orthopedic surgeon who believed that Wang could recover by CIF.
“Many of the doctors I visited said that I wouldn’t be able to come back by November 2019. I kept trying to find new doctors that said I would be able to, and finally, I found one at USC,” Wang said. “The doctor told me, ‘Anything is possible.’ Those three words helped me, assured me anything can happen, and gave me hope. In the blink of an eye, I worked hard and returned for CIF.”
Because Wang was essentially immobilized as a result of his fibula injury, all he could do was maintain a healthy diet and perform upper body exercises to keep his body in shape. After three months of arduous rehabilitation and doctor visits, Wang had regained half his strength in his right leg, on time to participate in the first round of CIF.
“I was super excited and super scared since I was going into CIF with half a leg basically. Because my leg was inactive for three months straight, we were ranked low that year, and got matched up against one of the elite teams in the first round because it was a seeded-style playoffs,” Wang said. “We only lost by four at the end. It felt like a win for us because [my team] wasn’t together the whole year because of injuries. Just by looking at the difference in points at the end, it just showed what potential we had as a team.”
Using their early first round CIF exit as motivation, Wang and his younger teammates were determined to get the team back into its competitive shape, thus coordinating extra team practices and conditioning sessions. With the advent of Covid-19 however, the team was confined to smaller group or individual workouts without pool access. In July 2020, Wang suffered yet another fibula injury, except in the left leg, at one of his planned park basketball workout sessions.
“I didn’t know what [the injury] was at first, because I could still walk. Once I found out, I was devastated, because I thought it wasn’t going to be anything major, but it turned out to be a leg injury,” Wang said. Luckily, I didn’t completely break the bone, so no surgery was needed. I could only keep my head up and work as hard as possible to recover.”
Despite the similar nature of the injury, Wang found himself needing less recovery time for this injury than the prior, as a result of his improved dieting. Since his first injury, Wang had kept up a diet consisting of five small meals a day, consisting of little sugar and little carbs, adding up to 1800 calories per day. This diet helped Wang lose 50 pounds prior to his second injury, which lessened the severity of the second injury when it happened.
“During my first injury, I had crutches. Since I didn’t break it completely, I skipped the crutch phase, and went from a cast to a boot to an ankle brace,” Wang said. “My mom really supported me with my diet, bringing me food and helping me commit to my diet by telling me not to eat ice cream whenever I wanted it.”
After the quicker 10-11 week recovery time, Wang found himself in peak physical shape, as if the second injury never occurred. Determined to dive straight back into the competitive water polo scene, Wang contacted over 40 Olympic water polo players in hopes of landing a private workout. Of those 40 players, only one responded: US national player set guard Chancellor Ramirez.
“I felt surprised, because I messaged many popular water polo players, and Ramirez replied and talked to me. I wasn’t expecting him to reply to me, so I was super excited,” Wang said. “I couldn’t imagine an olympic player responding to a high school player. When we met, I could tell his body was very different; I looked small next to him.”
On Thursday, Aug. 27, Ramirez privately trained Wang, focusing primarily on basic skill work for the center guard position and small water tricks. The workout lasted an hour, free of charge.
“He trained me for an hour, didn’t charge me any money, we talked, I told him about my injuries, established connections about his injuries, and passed on his knowledge,” Wang said. “He told me to reach out to him whenever I needed help, playing in Tokyo. He taught me some basic drills, stuff for my legs, stuff he thought was most important.”
Since the workout in mid-August, Wang has been preparing for the Olympic development program, which is a program for elite underage players vying to reach the US olympic team. Using the experiences from his two injuries going forward, Wang has developed a resolve that allows him to fight through his daily taxing workouts in preparation for the program’s tryouts.
“I just realized you should focus on what is in front of you, and when an obstacle appears, you have to find out how to overcome it. Learn how to move on, pouting about it won’t do anything,” Wang said. “When you’re on a team, you should look at how you could make everyone else better, and how they could make yourself better. Find the talent of yourself and the people around you and support each other.”
By Jacob Khuu, Sports editor
Photo courtesy of Jasper Wang