Yesterday the swim team hosted the 5th Annual Relay Challenge prior to the team’s tri-meet against Cabrini and Arcadia. Team Head Coach Nikki Whitlock started the event in 2009 as a way to raise awareness and support for the fight against breast cancer. At the time of the first event, Nikki was herself battling breast cancer. I can still see her walking around the pool deck wearing her home-lettered T-shirt that said, “Breast Cancer Sucks.”
The winning relay team: (l-r) Interim President Kim Cassidy, Judy Yeung ’14, Su Oner ’14, and Owls swim team assistant coach Marci Wixted.
The concept of the event is simple, but an ingenious way to build community support and visibility for breast cancer awareness and the swim team. Each swim team member creates a relay team that includes the team member, a faculty or staff member and, typically, two other students who are not on the swim team. The relay is a 4 X 25 yard race, with each swimmer completing one length of the pool. Participants and fans typically stick around after the challenge to enjoy pizza and watch the swim team in their intercollegiate competition. Donations are collected to support breast cancer treatment and research.
The first year we had about eight teams participating and the race was swum in one heat. The second year, participation increased. Fans began to attend to cheer on the swimmers. Participants began to practice ahead of time, and some even learned to dive just for the race. We began to have enough teams for two heats. Last year, we moved to a prelim/finals format, where we had two qualifying heats and the top two teams in each heat made it to finals. This year, for the first time, we had 17 relay teams (that’s 68 swimmers), or enough to do three heats, with six teams making the finals.
The event is very special and the community members who swim are really great sports — because participation can be challenging. For some of us the worst part is wearing a bathing suit in front of an audience, a particularly scary thing to do in December. For others, a length of the pool is a long way to swim. Some people don’t like to dive and others are terribly nearsighted, yet are forced to brave the experience without corrective lenses. And, by the way, the water is cold! Yet everyone shelves their pride, pitches in, and has a great time. Yesterday’s event included faculty, staff, and many, many students.
The spirit of the event has also affected the other college teams attending the meet. For the past two years, the Cabrini swim team has donated their meal money to the cause.
I must admit that there is a bit of controversy surrounding this event because my relay team has won the challenge all five years. Somehow people are skeptical that my swimming talent is the reason! They point to the fact that I have known Nikki since she was born. They remark that the Athletic Department reports to the Provost. I point to the fact that my swim team partners are talented recruiters, using their lifeguarding time to identify the fastest swimmers on campus. This year’s victory was especially sweet for me because my first place prize was a Bryn Mawr Swimming sweatshirt with my presidential nickname – “K-CASS” – embossed on the back. I will wear it with pride.
Both of my sons are competitive swimmers. After every one of their meets, I ask them the same two questions: Did you try your best? Did you have fun? I think it is safe to answer those questions in the affirmative for the relay challenge participants. This was our community doing our best for a great cause and we did have fun!