Taking On IRONMAN After Shoulder Surgery: Erin’s Story


When Erin Sosdian’s shoulder started to hurt during her sophomore year of college in 2011, the swimmer at Northwestern University at first shrugged it off. She knew it was a common complaint for swimmers at some point in their careers. One of the most difficult aspects of being a collegiate swimmer is trying to determine whether the pain stems from training too hard and can be pushed through, or whether it is related to a more serious injury that requires medical treatment.

“I’ve always been a bit stubborn when it comes to training,” Sosdian said. “The athletic environment at a NCAA Division I school constantly pushes you to your limits. I always wanted to do more and I never wanted to back down.”

Sosdian initially had a trainer wrap her shoulder with ice twice a day. As the pain worsened, she began doing physical therapy three times a week before swim practices and taking anti-inflammatories. At that time, surgery was not an option. Sosdian didn’t want an operation to impact her swimming nor her four-year college plan.

During Sosdian’s junior year of college, the pain began to reach a peak. She continued to ice her shoulder, but neither that nor the physical therapy exercises were working. She began to think maybe the pain was in her head.

The summer before her senior year, Sosdian, a mechanical engineering major and native of The Woodlands, took an internship at ExxonMobil in Houston. During that summer, she took a step back from swimming, training just 10 to 12 hours per week instead of the usual 28 hours or longer. The reduced training helped her shoulder feel better. However, once she returned to school and her fall training schedule resumed, her shoulder pain worsened. Surgery was again proposed as an option, but Sosdian held off. She saw the staff chiropractor, who helped her enough so that she could race at conference. She qualified for finals and ended up setting a personal best time in the 500 freestyle, all while fighting through excruciating pain.

“After conference my senior year, I threw away all of my team swimsuits, caps and racing suits because I was so done with it all,” Sosdian said. “My team doctors told me that I could lead a relatively pain-free life without surgery as long as I maintained a low activity level with my shoulder. But the terms ‘relatively’ and ‘low-activity’ didn’t stick well with me. I knew I wanted an active lifestyle, including completing my bucket list item of finishing an IRONMAN triathlon.”

Sosdian graduated from Northwestern in May 2014, and underwent a posterior and anterior capsular plication procedure on her shoulder in July of 2014. This minimally invasive procedure is used to relieve pain and loss of shoulder stability for those with shoulder pain. Following the procedure, Sosdian completed extensive physical therapy at the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute in The Woodlands.

“Typically young athletes think that their athletic career might be over if they have to have surgery,” said Andrew Cox, Director of Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute — The Woodlands . “But with so many advancements in surgeries and physical therapy, young athletes don’t have to give up their dreams. Despite working as a young engineer after college, Erin showed up to every physical therapy session ready to work hard. Getting back from surgery isn’t easy, especially from a significant operation like the one that she had. With the hard work that she put in, she’s as good as she ever was.”

Two years after her surgery, Sosdian completed her first IRONMAN triathlon, placing in the top five for her age range. She recently competed in the 2018 Memorial Hermann IRONMAN North American Championship in The Woodlands with a time of 9:42:22. Sosdian was first out of water for overall women, and finished fourth place for her age range.

“It feels phenomenal to be an IRON[WO]MAN,” Sosdian said. “I knew it was something I could accomplish if I could get my shoulder healthy enough to swim, which I owe all to Andrew and the Memorial Herman IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute. They have such an amazing team and I wouldn’t be competing without them. I never envisioned triathlon taking me so far. I assumed one and done, but the triathlon community is such a treasure and filled with funny, genuine people. My second IRONMAN is in the books and I’m never looking back.”

The IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute offers leading clinical expertise of recovery and endurance training that not only helps injured athletes return to their sport faster, it helps strong athletes reach their untapped potential. Our innovative care provides athletes of all ages and skill levels the services they need to reach their personal athletic goals. To schedule an appointment with the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute, click here to schedule now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Ali Vise