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Backstroker Melissa Trail turns injury into opportunity

Melissa Trail is making a splash in the pool and in the classroom. Photo: Paul Hokanson

By David J. Hill

Melissa Trail

“I realized college only comes once and you only have so much of an opportunity to make an impact on a team.”

Melissa Trail already has contributed to the UB record books as a swimmer, participating in a record-setting relay as a freshman. This year, as a redshirt junior, she hopes to leave another lasting impression—on the UB curriculum.

The backstroke specialist is taking an independent study for which she will co-author material for a training course and series of workshops for captains in all sports, not just swimming. “Being a captain on a college team is a big deal, and I think it’s important to learn how to interact with your teammates and coaches and build those relationships,” says Trail, a photography major from Pound Ridge, N.Y.

Trail’s work will eventually be folded into an existing course called UBE 102: Dynamics of Leadership in Sport, overseen by Michael McDowell, UB Athletics’ student-athlete development coordinator. “We are looking to tie this training program into our first-year experience course and the current UBE 102 leadership course, along with a few other initiatives,” McDowell explains. “Melissa’s work is essential to the big picture.”

Trail was named a captain midway through last season following a period of discord on the team. After helping to set a new tone, she was elected captain again this season. Her inspiration to be a team leader came from an unlikely source: a shoulder injury that dried up her chances of competing during her sophomore year. As a freshman, Trail swam the backstroke leg of the school record-setting 400-meter medley relay. Sitting out the following season made her feel like she was letting down her team.

But then, that summer, she thought long and hard about her future. “I came back with a new attitude,” she says. “I realized college only comes once and you only have so much of an opportunity to make an impact on a team.”

This year, Trail has multiple goals. In the pool, she’s aiming to break the school record in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke and qualify for NCAA nationals in March. Meanwhile, she’s determined to see her training program through, and pass her lessons learned on to future student-athletes at UB.

“I want to come back as an alum and see the program continuing,” she says. “The way your team meshes and the trust that you build are what really make a team successful.”