Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's a tough sport, but she's even tougher

Water polo coach, player adamant cystic fibrosis won't slow her down

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Water polo players have a saying, "Under water, no one can hear you scream."

It serves to illustrate that the game is one of the toughest -- if not the toughest -- sport around.

As if to back up the saying, several people at the Bushido Invitational Water Polo tournament Sunday at the Pan Am Pool had T-shirts that read, "If water polo was easy, it would have been called hockey".

In her own quiet way, 18-year-old Clair Davis is living testament to the toughness that water polo competitors display. Davis, who coached the under-12 co-ed team to a 9-2 win over Weyburn in their final yesterday morning, also plays the game with the Bushido senior women's team.

Oh, and by the way, she has cystic fibrosis. It's a chronic disease that affects the liver, lungs, pancreas and intestines. People with cystic fibrosis fight a buildup of mucus in their lungs.It has no cure.

The first-year University of Manitoba student agrees with the sport's tough reputation.

"It is very brutal, and like, there is a lot of grabbing, scratching and fighting going on under the water, but I really love it, its nice to get the aggression out sometimes."

Championship finals at the tournament were as follows: U-18 men, Regina 19 Bushido 9; U-18 women, Weyburn 8 Bushido 3; U-16 men, Bushido 12 Saskatchewan 10; U-16 women Bushido 4 Weyburn 2; U-14 boys, Regina 11 Bushido 4, U-14 girls Bushido 18 Regina 3; U-12 co-ed Bushido 9 Weyburn 2.

Oddly enough, the sometimes rough-and-tumble sport has proven to be therapeutic for Davis.

Her doctors have always told her that they approve of her playing the sport, as the exercise forces her to cough and thereby getting rid of the mucus from her lungs.

Her lungs will deteriorate regardless of what she does, because there is scarring and the tissue loses its elasticity as she gets older. However, by competing in an extremely high cardiovascular sport, she is able to keep her lungs cleared out.

Her doctors have, on occasion tried to reign in their patient, but to no avail. "Sometimes, I guess, my doctors have stepped in," said Davis Sunday. "Like last year right around the time of the nationals in Montreal, they didn't want me to go, and they didn't think I would be able to play. But I proved them wrong. I got into the water a little bit and got to play."

Davis's coach, Dave Hill, told the Free Press in 2007 that he marvelled at her determination.

"When you play a game that's an hour long, in the water for 10 or 12 minutes at a time without a break -- I know how hard it is, I played water polo. How someone can do that with an affliction that interferes with breathing, interferes with respiration, interferes with nutrition, it's so physically hard to do and I can't believe she does it," he said.

"But she does it, without complaining, and she's right in there. In a game, she's like anyone else. It boggles my mind."

Davis knows her limits. "I probably could never actually be on the national team, but I have never really expected to be there, or want to be there. But it really hasn't stopped me from doing anything. I just try my hardest and push through it. I haven't found anything yet that I couldn't push through."

allan.besson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2011 C5

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