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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Kearns swimmer Ciera Marsh

KEARNS — Last weekend, Kearns freshman Ciera Marsh showed why she is regarded by many as one of the most talented freshman swimmers in the state.

Before a sold-out audience at the 5A swim championships, Marsh dropped big time in both her individual events (100 free and 200 free) and helped her team win a state championship in the 200 free relay and set a school record in the 200 medley relay.

Seeing her compete was a miracle for her family and friends, but it had nothing to do with how fast she swam.

Diagnosed with a dilated aorta last fall, Marsh was told by doctors that she couldn't swim competitively or participate in active sports for the rest of her life.

Just a few months later, however, she has defied that initial diagnosis.

Marsh was re-evaluated on Jan. 14, and doctors discovered her aorta, the largest artery in the body, which is connected to the heart, had shrunk. It isn't completely healthy — Marsh will probably have to have it checked every six months for the rest of her life — but it shrunk enough to allow her to get back in the pool, both for swimming this winter and for water polo in the spring.

That she was able to dive into the pool at BYU last weekend brought smiles to the faces of all those who know her.

"It's almost unbelievable," said Kearns junior Adelin Marsh, Ciera's older sister. "It's still sinking in to me — I still can't believe that she's actually able to swim. ... It's really cool, but still kind of unbelievable because, wow, you never thought she'd be able to do it again and she can."

Kearns coach Chris Horne has felt for the last year or so that Marsh could become something really special.

"I think she's the next big star," he said.

For months, however, it appeared Marsh's swim career would be cut short.

According to Marsh's mother, Jan, the young swimming star had been "steadily losing weight" over an 18-month period when they first took her to a doctor last spring.

However, it wasn't until right before her freshman season was set to begin last fall that doctors told her she had an enlarged aorta and wouldn't be able to swim anymore. Doctors worried that if Marsh's heart rate went up too high her aorta would explode and kill her.

Aside from golf and archery, she was informed she couldn't participate competitively in anything for the rest of her life.

Eventually, doctors did relent slightly and allowed her to train at a substantially lower level with her swim team. Also, Marsh began taking medication to keep her heart rate down. However, there was no reason, according to Jan Marsh and Horne, to think that anything would be different when she was reevaluated on Jan. 14.

But there was something different.

To the surprise of the doctors, her aorta had shrunk enough for her to resume her budding sports career.

"They don't know how or why — it just got better," said Marsh.

Her family, however, credits the miraculous recovery to their faith. Jan Marsh sent out a number of e-mails to family members, friends, fellow swimmers and coaches, asking them all to pray for Marsh in the weeks leading up to her reevaluation,

Jan Marsh quickly pointed out that she doesn't understand why her daughter got a "miracle" but noted that her and her family have been doing everything they can to show gratitude.

And they're also mindful of all those who haven't had a similar outcome.

"I ache for them. I weep for them," Jan Marsh said. "We don't know why. We could've been those parents reading about somebody else's miracle. I hope they don't lose hope ... We just are grateful and would just love to return some strength and hope to those people."

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