Records: Recruit's injury roiled Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A former University of Iowa women's rowing recruit says the team's demanding workouts were so poorly supervised that she developed a rare and painful condition in her legs in 2008 that made it difficult for her to walk, stand or even sit for long amounts of time, according to recently filed court documents.

Former coxswain Margaret Krusing underwent multiple surgeries, and the school -- where football players would be hospitalized three years later after intense winter training -- quietly agreed to pay her scholarship for two years after she left the team and transferred, according to documents filed in her lawsuit last week.

The athletic department ordered the rowing coach of 18 years, Mandi Kowal, to "bring about a culture of student-athlete well-being" in 2008 after the injury, according to a university memo made public last week. Krusing's mother testified last month that athletics director Gary Barta apologized to her for what happened to her daughter.

Krusing, 23, is seeking damages for medical expenses and pain and suffering at a trial scheduled to begin Tuesday. An attorney's scheduling conflict could cause a delay, court official Sandra Dains said.

Jurors will determine whether Kowal and athletic trainers were negligent in how they monitored Krusing during workouts. The lawsuit claims their failure to get Krusing medical treatment sooner or modify workouts after she complained of pain contributed to the development of exertional compartment syndrome.

The condition causes pain, swelling and occasional disability in arm and leg muscles, and is most common in athletes who make repetitive movements. Surgery is typically required and successful.

The trial also will spotlight the competitive world of college rowing and Kowal, a renowned rower for Wisconsin and the U.S. national team in the 1980s.

In an answer to the lawsuit, a university lawyer argued that Krusing was "comparatively at fault" and that should reduce any damages. Kowal didn't return a phone message. University spokesman Tysen Kendig said, "we will vigorously defend against these accusations."

The case shows Iowa administrators were aware in 2008 of damage that could be caused by workouts. Three years later, 13 football players were hospitalized with a rare muscle disorder, rhabdomyolysis, during winter weightlifting. The players recovered and the team abandoned the exercise amid a public relations disaster.

Krusing's attorney, Jim Cook, didn't return a phone message but detailed his case in a court filing last week.

Krusing was a varsity coxswain, steering the boat and directing rowers. She performed that role during high school in St. Louis, but was unprepared for the running and biking regimen that Kowal expected at Iowa, Cook wrote. In her first semester, she started complaining of burning pain in her legs and numbness in her feet during runs.

A student athletic trainer suspected she had exertional compartment syndrome, but didn't refer her to a team physician and her injury report entered into an athletic department database wasn't sent to the coach, Cook wrote. Trainers taped ice packs to her legs when she continued showing symptoms in the following weeks, he said.

Krusing asked Kowal whether she could perform yoga instead because that didn't cause her pain, but Kowal told her to join a swimming class of former collegiate swimmers and triathletes that only worsened her condition, Cook's filing said. By spring, Krusing says she was in so much pain that she was hardly able to walk around campus or sit in class.

She was referred to the university's sports medicine clinic, which performed surgery on her legs. Her mother, Maryclare Krusing, testified that she asked Kowal at the hospital "if she was happy that my daughter was in pain" during an icy exchange.

Maryclare Krusing testified that Kowal said, "Margaret and I have a contract."

Krusing had additional surgeries the following year that her mother said did not fully correct the condition.

The university increased Krusing's half scholarship to full following her parents' meeting with Barta. Krusing was recovering from surgery and did not compete her sophomore year before withdrawing in spring 2009 and transferring to Marquette University. Under a settlement of her scholarship with her parents, Iowa paid $32,000 to Marquette in 2009-2010 for educational expenses and made a similar payment the next year before she graduated. Krusing filed the lawsuit in 2010.

Associate athletics director Paula Jantz told Kowal in a 2008 memo that, going forward, a trainer would provide daily injury reports and that no injured athletes could practice unless cleared by medical staff. Kowal was to develop a training program for coxswains in coordination with strength and conditioning staff.

"We have all been made aware of issues that have been raised to a level of concern," Jantz wrote, urging her to "focus on student-athlete well-being and engage in clear, open and appropriate communication."