The South Run Stingrays have started strong in the 2008 NVSL season. The team of about 100 swimmers is 3-1 and sits atop the Division 4 standings. Only residents of the Fairfax Station community can swim for the team, which, according to one team mom, creates a familial atmosphere around the club. This year, the team has felt especially close-knit, but for a different reason — the Stingrays are a squad deeply affected by cancer.
Five mothers of Stingray swimmers are currently living with some form of the disease. That figure does not include the mothers that have kept their battles private, the ones who are recovering from cancer or those families who have been affected in other ways. Naturally, the team wanted to provide support to these families in a tangible way.
The coaches tossed around several ideas: a triathlon or perhaps a walk around Burke Lake.
“We wanted to do something… that could benefit them, while tying in the swimming aspect,” said Stingrays head coach Drew Bollea – a graduate of Lake Braddock High School and swimmer at Miami University (Ohio).
Junior Seahawks coach Blake Murphy and assistant head coach Lindsay Myrick, came up with the idea to hold a swimming event similar to the popular Relay for Life; and so, the first annual South Run Swim-a-Thon was born.
The South Run Recreation Center took on the project, and in just a few weeks, community swimmers of all ages took to the pool on Sunday, July 13, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The goal was to have at least one person swimming laps at all times, keeping true to the concept of the relay. Any kind of donation was welcome, be it a flat amount or a certain pledge amount per lap. All proceeds went to Life with Cancer, an outreach group whose mission statement is, “To enhance the quality of life of those affected by cancer by providing education, information and support.”
“Life with Cancer is a terrific organization,” said Bollea’s mother, Leslee, a recent cancer survivor. “They’ve got amazing programs for all kinds of different cancers, and they provide professionals to come in a talk and give educational series.
“When you have cancer, you just don’t sit around and say, ‘Woe is me.’ You live with it. You just live life, and that’s what these programs are so wonderful for.”
Though the Swim-a-Thon itself has ended, the spirit of giving back to the mothers who support the team will continue.
“One mother in particular who is battling cancer volunteers her time on the pool deck, and she works it around her chemo treatments,” said volunteer Laura Murphy. “You look at these people, and you say, not only are they volunteering, but they’re working it around their schedule with their chemo treatments. It’s just overwhelming.
“We wanted to think of something locally, so that these parents could benefit from the service.”
Murphy added that the goal was not just to benefit the afflicted families of the team, but of the entire community. The donation box at the South Run Rec Center will be open until July 26. This year, however, the donations are not the main concern.
“There were no [financial] goals in mind,” said Bollea. “The main thing is to raise awareness and get as much participation as possible.”
For a day, anyone involved in the community could swim and show their support for their neighbors affected by one of the most pervasive diseases in the world.
“It’s a great cause, and it’s really beneficial to the neighborhood, especially, because it does involve the entire neighborhood and everyone is affected by it," said Bollea.