Gabriela Pierobon Mays

Middleton's Gabriela Pierobon Mays competes in the 300-yard butterfly relay during the Middleton Cardinal Relay Invitational on Saturday at Middleton High School.

AMBER ARNOLD, STATE JOURNAL

Middleton sophomore Gabriela Pierobon Mays has developed into one of the state’s top swimmers.

The defending WIAA Division 1 state champion in the 100-yard butterfly takes stock of that each day, realizing her burgeoning swimming career — which began at age 5 — might not have materialized due to a dare she accepted as a 9-year-old.

That’s when her unsuccessful attempt to do a back flip off a school playground swing resulted in a broken radius and humerus in her right arm.

“I basically shattered them,” Pierobon Mays said.

Doctors were optimistic, but at the same time she was told there was a 33 percent chance she wouldn’t have full use of her right arm.

“I had the most amazing orthopedic surgeon I could ever have,” she said. “Dr. (Kenneth) Noonan and his team (at UW Health American Family Children’s Hospital) fixed it right up.”

She was in a cast for about eight weeks in fall 2011.

“It was a really difficult couple months of the journey to try to get back into it,” the 15-year-old said. “But I had a lot of help. I just take every day as a blessing that I have full function.

On Saturday, Pierobon Mays was part of four winning relays — the 200 medley, the 300 butterfly, the 300 backstroke and the 8x50 freestyle — at the Middleton Cardinal Relays Invitational.

The host Cardinals, top-ranked in Division 1 in the state coaches’ poll, won all 10 relays in the varsity meet and finished first with 400 points.

Sun Prairie (328) was second, followed by Madison Memorial (312) and Madison West (284) in a meet that coaches and swimmers consider fun due to its variety of unusual relays and lineup combinations.

“We came off a really tough week; it was a roller coaster of a week,” said Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka, whose team won the WIAA Division 1 state title last year. “We had some good practices, some bad practices. But the most important thing at this point of the season is to have some fun. … We also saw some people shine in areas we haven’t seen them before, which is kind of exciting.”

To that point, Cabalka said sophomore Berkley Smith turned in some of the fastest sprinting times Saturday on a team loaded with talent, including Pierobon Mays, senior Caroline Hippen, juniors Cora Mack and Hannah Aegerter, sophomore Alex Anagnostopoulos and freshman Ally Silvestri.

Sun Prairie coach Nancy Harms also found the meet fun and productive. She said her young team — led by freshman Sophie Fiske, junior Michaela Nelson and sophomores Bree Moericke and Lily Garcia — finished second for the first time at this particular meet.

“Nobody is going to beat Middleton,” Harms said. “They are so strong. I just wanted to stay with them. Lauren does a great job and she gets strong kids. They have a great tradition.”

Pierobon Mays, whose specialties are the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, is excited to see what Middleton can do as the season progresses.

“We went into the meet saying, ‘All right, Let’s show our depth. Let’s show our strokes,’ ” Pierobon Mays said. “Seeing that we won all these events puts us in a good spot mentality-wise.

“Going into these next weeks and the next month, we’re pretty confident in ourselves. But we have to know there is a lot of talent in the state. We have to stay humble and understand it is one swim meet and we have to get back to work.”

Getting back to work is something Pierobon Mays is more than happy to do. Cabalka, when asked about Pierobon Mays’ injury as a youth, had trouble imagining the Cardinals’ lineup without her.

“She’s a great swimmer, but her attitude and maturity day after day are so consistent,” Cabalka said. “To think we didn’t have that would be such a huge loss.”

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.