WEIRTON - Weir High senior Kelsey Ferguson is realizing a dream, something she really thought might not be possible not too long ago.
Some two years after being diagnosed with chronic osteomyelitis in the left femur, Ferguson has signed to continue her academic and athletic careers at Marshall University, where she will major in biology with the ultimate goal of graduate school and marine biology research and to be a member of the swim team.
"Division I wasn't something that I was looking for," she admitted. "I didn't care if I went Division I or Division III, I cared about liking where I went. As long as I was happy in where I wanted to go, it really didn't matter what division it was.
WE ARE ... MARSHALL — Weir High senior Kelsey Ferguson, flanked by her parents Bill and Donna, will continue her academic and athletic careers at Marshall University, where she will major in biology with the ultimate goal of graduate school and marine biology research and to be a member of the swim team. Also on hand for the signing were, from left, Weir Athletic Director Mike DelRe and Principal Dan Enich.
-- Mike Mathison
"No matter what division you are in, you're still swimming.
"I think swimming Division I will really bring a lot out of me. I don't take it seriously to the point that I'm going to make enemies. I'm going to make friends. The people I am going to be racing against are going to be friends who are pushing me to do better."
Ferguson had an open wound on her left leg, and in June 2010 a trip to Trinity Medical Center West resulted in tissue samples being taken to rule out cancer. She was diagnosed with an acute or chronic bone infection which can be caused by bacteria (more common) or fungi (less common.)
Two surgeries later, she was back in the water.
"I think it really gave me an 'anything-can-happen-in-this-sport' attitude," she said of the injury and subsequent comeback. "After my injury with my leg I didn't know if I would swim in college - I didn't even know if I would swim that year.
"To be going to a Division I school is really surreal and I am excited about how everything worked out."
Said her coach and mother Donna, "She was only able to 'train' for about six good weeks and never at 100 percent intensity. At the time of OVACs that year she had not even swum the IM in a high school meet and we didn't know what she could do, but that's what we went with. And she won at OVACs but we knew it was not a state-worthy time. At regionals she gave her all and it was good enough to get is to Morgantown.
"That is the year that Kelsey really grew up and just had such a great perspective.
"At states, she took two second places and there were tears throughout the natatorium. So many people were pulling for her and the tears were not of disappointment for second, but of happiness to see her return to this level. Total strangers kept coming up to her with congratulations and hugs and words of encouragement. It was touching to see as a coach and as a mom."
Her unique road from the injury continues at Marshall as her signature with the Herd comes at a time when the program is without a head coach.
"I don't think it made it hard, I think it made it fun," she said of the decision to sign with Marshall without having a head coach. "The whole team will get to start over with a new coach. Everyone is starting with a blank slate. It will be a lot of fun being a part of building this program."
Marshall, admittedly, was not at the top of the list of college choices when the process began.
"When I did my recruiting trip there I completely fell in love with the place," said Ferguson. "I fell in love with the people, the campus and the academics are what I want them to be and the swimming is what I want it to be.
"The research center is exactly what I wanted for biology and I really didn't see that at any other school.
"I definitely regarded academics first in choosing a college. I'm not going to swim my whole life, so I had to put my academics ahead of my swimming.
"It would have been hard if I really liked one place because of the academics and another place because of the swimming. But, fortunately, I didn't have to make that decision.
"It's the perfect fit.
"The swimming was based on the teammates and the level of competition. It's going to be a really challenging thing for me - the conference meets and going into NCAA Division I. There are going to be fast time and I cannot wait to workout and go to an NCAA Division I meet one day.
"It's going to be a shock. It's going to be completely different training and I am looking forward to it. I am going to spend the summer getting ready and into shape.
"I'm not going to be the fastest there, by far, and that's OK with me. I want to work toward that - being the fastest one day."
Said her coach and mother Donna, "She made her final recruiting trip the first of March to Marshall and on the drive home I heard words like 'I felt like I had found home' and 'I think we can make some Marshall history.' And when I realized the 'we' was the teammates she had just spent the weekend with, I knew she had found a fit.
"During her academic visit there she loved the facilities for biology and the faculty. It all just seemed to offer what she was looking for. The great respect for tradition is felt as you walk through campus and that meant a lot to her."
Ferguson is a six-time West Virginia state champion, winning the 200IM and 100 breastroke as a freshman, sophomore and senior. She finished second in both races as a junior.
"Her senior year was all about the team from Day 1," said Donna. "She had some specific goals and she set out to make them happen. The relays were her focus. Shortly prior to OVACs I could see the synergy of the group. They spent every day pushing one another, keeping each other mentally positive and I knew they were something special.
"It paid off for them and as they finished their final swim in Morgantown the emotional river began to flow. They remained in a group hug on the deck at Morgantown for over 30 minutes and just took in the moment."
Ferguson's 2:10.91 in the 200 IM as a senior is the fifth-best all-time in the state and would put her No. 10 on the Marshall list.
Her 1:07.72 as a senior in the 100 breaststroke puts her ninth all-time in the state and would also put her No. 10 at Marshall.
"I thank my family and both my club team and my high school teams for always supporting me in whatever I do, pushing me and believing in me even when I didn't," said Ferguson.