Typically injuries are not a good thing for athletes, but for Grace Jovanovic, a broken arm set her on a path to greatness. Jovanovic is entering her junior year at St. Mary’s. She’s one of the top swimmers in the state despite the fact that swimming wasn’t even her first or second sport.
“I was put in tee-ball when I was about 4,” Jovanovic said, “and I loved it. My brother and I would play wiffle ball in the backyard. It was my passion.”
She really took softball to another level starting at 7 years-old. Then she explored a new sport, gymnastics, until an unfortunate series of events led to a very fortunate outcome.
“When I was 10 years-old I started,” Jovanovic said. “I broke my arm in gymnastics, and they suggested swimming as therapy for my arm. I was working on building up the muscle.”
Surgery was off the table as the doctors thought it could stunt her growth.
“So they were like, ‘Well, you need to do something,'” Jovanovic said, “and swimming was it so I saw the swim team one day, and I was like, ‘This looks awesome. I want to do that.'”
Despite starting at a somewhat older age than most elite swimmers, Grace thrived.
“When I started coaching her, she was just a really hard worker and listened,” swim coach Tim Manley said. “That was the focus, and I think that’s really what propelled it. So maybe starting at a later age is a better thing.”
In her first two years of high school, Grace already has four top 10 finishes at the state championships. Yet her accomplishments on the softball field may be even more impressive. Grace plays softball for North Medford because St. Mary’s doesn’t have a team.
“Two state titles of softball under your belt is pretty good,” Grace said, “but swimming I’ve definitely been pretty successful, too.”
“She’s kind of a triple threat that way,” Manley said, “and I say the triple threat because of swimming, softball and she’s a great student.”
A near 4.0 student in fact. There’s a level of maturity with Grace that is likely a product of her athletic background. In addition to the late start as a swimmer, Grace typically played with older softball players, from just a 7 year-old playing with girls a year or two older to her freshman year at North Medford, when she played with older, star players like Maryssa Becker and Katie Williamson.
“Her freshman year she had to compete up for so long,” North Medford softball coach Mike Mayben said. “I think it became very natural to her. When we watched Grace in practice, she understood every throw, every rep meant something. You saw this kid that competed in everything she did and really brought the level of all the kids in the program up.”
It’s that maturity. It’s also why Grace helps Tim Manley coach swimming.
“She’s always been more mature than her age ever since I’ve known her,” Manley said. “It was pretty easy for her to step in the next day. She just kind of took over. It was great.”
Now she’s coaching despite learning the sport because of an injury.
“What if you never broke your arm?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I wouldn’t have ever started swimming and just did gymnastics. Who knows how far that would have gone either?”
For now she’ll stick with softball and swimming.