Anna Swanson grabbed her javelin and told herself to let it rip. Her teammate had just launched a personal-best throw, causing Swanson's competitive drive to surge. She was determined to surpass that mark on her final throw in St. Thomas' first outdoor track and field meet this season.

Never mind that Swanson was only 265 days removed from a car crash that left her with a shattered pelvis and fracture in her lower spine. Her car was so damaged that day her father didn't recognize it after rushing to the scene in their hometown of Osceola, Wis. He feared the driver of that mangled car was dead, only to realize that it was his daughter's car and that she was alive inside being tended to by first responders.

Swanson was airlifted to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. Doctors told her that it was unclear if she would ever compete again.

She didn't accept that answer. She told her coach the night before surgery that she would throw a javelin again, even if she couldn't run.

Sure enough, there she was 265 days later, April 6, her first meet since the accident, down to her final throw. She let it rip — 47.5 meters, or 155 feet, 10 inches. The longest throw of her career and a St. Thomas record.

Teammates swarmed her, tears flowing. Her family watching from the stands cheered and cried too.

"That was such a sweet moment," Swanson said.

She looked powerful as she pulled her javelin back in perfect form before launching it farther than she ever has, a snapshot of a college athlete performing at her peak. The scar at the bottom of her right shin served as a visible reminder of what she overcame to experience that moment.

"I'm a living miracle at this point that I'm alive," she said.

'My heart just sank'

She had never thrown a javelin until college. As an undergraduate at St. Mary's University in Winona, she competed in cross-country and middle-distance events in track.

She had a strong arm in softball growing up, so her dad encouraged her to try javelin at St. Mary's. She placed second nationally in Division III in her first season.

She graduated from St. Mary's in three years. She wanted to pursue a career in nursing, just like her mom. She also wanted to compete in javelin at a higher level.

St. Thomas had just launched a nursing school and recently transitioned to Division I athletics. Swanson emailed Tommies javelin coach Ryan Ness to ask if she could join the team after being admitted into the nursing program. She set a school record and placed second in the Summit League championships last year.

Swanson was home in Osceola in July, driving to a dentist appointment when an oncoming car drifted across the center line on a two-lane highway, struck a pickup truck near Swanson and slammed into the front of her car. All three drivers survived.

The impact demolished the front of Swanson's car. She remembers holding her breath after the airbag deployed and realizing that she was alive.

A bystander rushed to her and touched her legs to check for movement. The car's front end, by her feet, was gone.

Though in shock, she remembered her dad's cell number. The woman providing aid called Jim.

"I thought, man, whoever was in that vehicle is probably no longer with us," Jim said. "I walked around the side of the vehicle. I saw the back end and realized it was Anna's car and my heart just sank."

Anna saw fear on his face as he walked up. As he got closer, she said, "Hi Dad, I'm good."

They held hands for a moment, then Jim backed away as workers extricated her from the car.

Her mom Sara was working her nursing shift at a Stillwater hospital. She left immediately to meet everyone at Regions Hospital.

A nine-hour surgery

At the hospital, Swanson asked that someone contact her new boyfriend, Andrew Anstoetter. They had been dating for a month. He works as an engineer in Decorah, Iowa, and had only met her parents once.

Her mom didn't have his number, so Swanson's older brother tracked down Anstoetter through a mutual friend. He left work and drove three hours to the hospital.

Surgery the next day lasted nearly nine hours. Swanson's pelvis was fractured in five places, requiring three plates and 14 screws to stabilize. Her injuries also included a torn labrum on her left hip, a deep laceration on her right ankle and damage to the lower part of her spine.

The medical team could not give a definitive answer when she asked if she would be able to compete in the javelin again.

"I was destroyed," Swanson said. "After they left, I was like, 'Mom, I have worked so hard to get to this point.'"

She was discharged from the hospital after four days under orders to not put weight on her left leg for 10 weeks. That posed a logistical problem. Her brother Joe was getting married in a week.

Swanson refused to miss his wedding. She got her makeup, hair and nails done and put on her bridesmaid dress. She walked down the aisle on crutches, then sat in a wheelchair for the ceremony. There wasn't a dry eye at the reception when her brother told her story in his speech.

Swanson recovered at home. Her parents' bedroom is on the main floor so she slept beside her mom for 10 weeks, while Jim moved into a bedroom in the basement. She spent most of that time in a wheelchair.

Her parents monitored her rehab, and Anstoetter made the 3½-hour drive from Iowa every weekend to help. He would get her out of the house as much as possible to give her parents a break. They were still a new couple getting to know each other under unusual circumstances.

"I knew that he was a good one after that," Swanson said, smiling.

Javelin points the way

With the hospital stay behind them, Anstoetter went to retrieve some of Swanson's items that were still in the car at the tow lot. He bent down outside the car and pulled her shoes out from the front end near the gas pedal.

"I was surprised when I saw that car that she was even here with us," he said.

By September, Swanson could put full weight on her left leg. She was jogging a month later. Fighting constant pain, she worked tirelessly to build upper body strength by lifting weights while seated in her wheelchair.

She returned to school this semester and began track workouts in January. She had to relearn her steps, her technique, the entire operation of throwing a javelin. She wondered if she would ever fully regain her strength. Throwing the javelin again gave her a goal to chase during all the hard hours of rehab.

"I can do anything I set my mind to," she said.

She proved that again on the final throw in her first meet back — the new school record.

Sometimes she stops and reflects on just how lucky she is, knowing that even with the pain she still experiences in her body, the outcome of her accident could have been worse.

"I feel thankful," she said.

Two weeks before she launched that record javelin throw, Anna and Andrew took a spring break trip to Texas. They went for a walk one day, and there on a bluff overlooking the Brazos River, Andrew asked Anna a question.

She said yes.