P.T. alumna inspires others to persevere

Cindy Hauber’s motto must be “keep swimming, keep swimming”: The longtime Iowa Games multi medalist was named the 2009 National Congress of State Games Female Athlete of the Year.

In 2000, Cindy Hauber woke up finding herself being prepared by an emergency medical technician for an ambulance ride. When he asked why she was trying to look at her feet, she replied, “I just want to make sure there wasn’t a toe tag.”

When the Iowa Games began in 1987, Cindy Hauber dove into the 200-meter freestyle race. Although it was her first swim competition and she had “no idea how swim meets were run,” the 2005 graduate of DMU’s doctor of physical therapy program won.

Hauber went on to compete in the Iowa Games’ swim events every summer, missing just two years – in 1991, when her daughter was born, and in 2000, when a ruptured cerebral aneurysm sent her to the hospital for several weeks, sapped her strength and cut her weight by 20 pounds. Her neurosurgeon said the event would have killed her had she not been in tip-top physical condition.

Hauber, however, refused to let an exploding blood vessel keep her down. She returned to Iowa Games competition in 2001 and now has more than 100 Iowa Games medals in swimming, including gold medals in the 2009 500-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke, 200-meter individual medley and 50-meter butterfly. She also placed second in the 55-59 age division in the 2009 Iowa Games triathlon.

“I want to be a role model for others that you can persevere and overcome difficulties,” she says.

For her accomplishments, Hauber was named the Iowa Games 2009 Marty McHone Female Athlete of the Year and then the 2009 National Congress of State Games (NCSG) Female Athlete of the Year.

“Cindy’s longevity in competing, her overcoming health problems, citizenship and all her support of fellow athletes made her the perfect selection,” says Jeff Scully, executive director of the Maine Games and chair of the NCSG awards committee.

A physical therapist with Homeward, an Ames, IA, home health agency, Hauber was surprised by the awards.

“When you’re competing, you know there’s always someone faster and better,” she says. “It’s neat to think someone thinks you’re doing pretty good.”

Pretty good for someone who, post-aneurysm, could barely swim three laps. A longtime biological sciences laboratory technician with the USDA National Animal Disease Center in Ames, she was frustrated by memory loss that forced her to “figure out other ways to organize my thoughts.”

Still, the aneurysm had a silver lining – it nudged her to pursue the career she’d always wanted in physical therapy. Her husband, Wayne, encouraged her. “He said, ‘Otherwise, you’ll always ask yourself, “Would I have made it?” You might not, but at least you tried.’”

It wasn’t easy. Aneurysm-related headaches and back pain forced her to take a medical leave during her program. But she persevered in school and in the pool, buoyed by Wayne and their children. Sons Eric and Karl, then college students, took the time to quiz her on muscle insertions and innervations; daughter Rachel often helped her study and tucked encouraging notes in her backpack.

Hauber, who rises as early as 4:30 a.m. to exercise, now works one-on-one with clients in their homes, a job she loves. “They feel you’re part of the family. You can work on their whole well-being,” she says. “Some can get so depressed being home-bound. I tell them, ‘You can do this,’ and I give them a social outlet.”

Hauber, chair of the southwest district of the Iowa Physical Therapy Association, coordinates physical therapy volunteers for Iowa’s Special Olympics competition. The 56-year-old also keeps her sights set on swimming in an international competition at age 80. She’s still humbled by her recent awards, though.

“At the national games banquet, I hadn’t been hugged and kissed that much since our wedding reception,” she says. “My husband said I’d better not get too big a head. I said, ‘Well, I’d float better with a bigger head.’”

View the National Congress of State Games video about Cindy Hauber and her achievements.

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