By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Long-time USA Swimming corporate partner ConocoPhillips has sponsored our sport for more than 35 years. Today, ConocoPhillips focuses on “Passing on what matters to the ones who matter most,” and in that spirit usaswimming.org is highlighting swimmers of all levels who have chosen to give back to the sport of swimming or to their community.
Prior to the annual tri-meet among Duquesne University, St. Francis University and Central Connecticut State University last October, the coaches and swimmers of all three schools discussed doing some kind of fundraiser not only for breast cancer but cancer in general.
Because they started talking so late in the month, however, they all agreed to table the idea until this year so they could do things right.
This weekend in Pittsburgh on the Duquesne campus, the three schools will do just that when they join forces to raise money for the Cancer Society of Pittsburgh.
"We didn't want to throw it together and do a poor job, so we decided since the meet was in Pittsburgh this year to jump in with both feet and really emphasize the swim-a-thons as well as the tri-meet for awareness," said Duquesne head swim coach David Sheets. "When we started doing the tri-meet last year (adding CCSU), Pat Gallagher, head coach at St. Francis, and I got the idea for the theme meet.
“The American Cancer Society of Pittsburgh was the logical choice since we were hosting the meet this year, and next year, when CCSU hosts, we will donate all proceeds to the local cancer society near CCSU and the following year to Loretto's (location of St. Francis) local chapter."
Leading up to this weekend's meet, each of the three teams held individual fundraisers and/or awareness events during the month of October. Throughout the month, all three teams have been wearing pink caps to raise awareness.
Duquesne had a swim-a-thon last Sunday (Oct. 23) during its practice session and raised close to $2,500. The entire team, including the coaching staff, swam 6,000 yards -- or 240 laps -- each to raise money via pledges. St. Francis also did a swim-a-thon to raise money and awareness -- raising almost $800 -- and CCSU did its own event.
"I hadn't swum 6,000 yards since college," Sheets said. "I don't think anyone gets too excited on a Sunday to swim 6,000 yards, but the women knew why they were doing it, embraced it and did a great job."
October being Breast Cancer Awareness month made the cancer society a popular choice as the recipient of the funds raised, but Sheets said the members of all three teams see the value in raising awareness and money for all kinds of cancer.
"Until I started doing some research, I didn't know the specific numbers of individuals being diagnosed with breast cancer or any form of cancer," Sheets said. "We all coach women and knowing that 1 in 8 women in the United Sates will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and that 39,520 will die from the disease really put it into perspective. For our program of 18 athletes, that's 2-plus women. Also, finding the figures that 1,586,670 men and women in the United States will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer floored me."
Original goals for the schools was to each raise $750 to bring to this weekend's meet, so far, they are exceeding expectations. They still have this Saturday's tri-meet where the teams will sell T-shirts and ask for donations at the door.
"Conservatively, I was hoping for $3,000, but now I'm shooting for $5,000," Sheets said.
Sheets said as long as the coaches for the other two schools want to continue championing a cause, he is in full support of making this an annual tradition.
"We will do our part to make the event bigger and better each year," he said. "The women have embraced the cause. Cancer is something that none of us can escape. Until we ask, we don't really know how many people are affected by cancer. Three of our swimmers have close family members who are battling the disease, and three years ago, one of our male swimmers was diagnosed with cancer. Some how, some way, it affects all of us."
The teams in the tri-meet at Duquesne University ended up raising almost $7000 for the American Cancer Society of Pittsburgh -- well above the original goal of $3000 which was then raised to $5000 before the meet.