Westchase Swimmers Make a Splash for a Great Cause
It’s a moving tradition rooted in loss and tragedy – and in the hope of victory over a disease that has likely stolen someone you love.
Swim Across America is a tradition like no other. You can participate under San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge or in the midst of Boston Harbor. You can even get involved closer to home in Clearwater.
But you have to get wet.
A fundraiser dedicated to assisting the fight against cancer and supporting institutions that assist its victims, Swim Across America was established in 1987. Dozens of events across the nation benefit different hospitals and institutions that fight cancer, including Tampa Bay’s Moffit Cancer Center.
And since 2013, TBAY Westchase swimmers have been part of a group of Tampa Bay swimmers locally leading the fight – and the fundraising.
The TBAY swimmers train at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center pool.
In 2012 tragedy touched the Westchase swimmers lives. In October of that year Westchase swim mom Yung Kimura, lost her battle with cancer. The following spring, TBAY Westchase began their tradition of participating in Swim Across America by swimming in her memory.
Team members still remember Mrs. Kimura, whose name, written on swimmers’ shoulders and backs, recalls people they love who have been lost too soon.
Yung Kimura had three sons who have swum with TBAY. Her older sons, Kyle and Kent, now swim at the University of Connecticut and the University of Florida while her youngest son, Kory, now swims at TBAY Countryside. Kimura’s niece, Tiffany Quach, and nephews, Chris and Nicky Quach, are still with TBAY Westchase team.
“We started participating in the event about three years ago,” said Westchase Swim Coach Alex Richardson. “Since we started, we’ve been all in on this.”
“So far this year, we have 57 registered swimmers who have raised $15,612.00 so far – just over half of the $30,000 goal,” said TBAY Westchase mom, Jean Strasen.
“This year, Westchase swims in memory of Jean Allen, mother of beloved coach Kelley Allen,” added Strasen.
Allen, Westchase’s coach, was killed in October 2012. Jean Allen recently lost her battle with cancer, just weeks after her son’s murderer was sentenced for his crime.
TBAY Westchase is one branch of the larger Tampa Bay Aquatics swim team. TBAY has branches in Lakeland, Carlouel (Clearwater), Downtown Tampa, Countryway and Arbor Greene (New Tampa).
For the past two years’ events, nearly 80 TBAY swimmers (ages 7 and up), coaches, and parents have participated in Swim Across America. Since TBAY’s participation, the organization has raised just over $75,000. Combined with other swimmers participating in Swim Across America (SSA), the impact of the Westchase swimmers has been substantial. “Over the first four years,” observed Jean Strasen, “SAA Tampa Bar has given $614,000 to Moffitt Cancer Center.”
Strasen added, “TBAY, I believe, was the highest fundraising team in 2014 and second highest in 2015.”
According to Coach Richardson, TBAY Westchase’s participation in the event has added bonuses. “I particularly like the event a lot because it is a way to show our swimmers to give back to their community. Moffit is in our backyard,” he said.
Further, Richardson added, local SSA organizers do a great job educating the participants about how their community is affected by cancer.
Olympian Brooke Bennett, a Florida native, has both participated in and supported the Clearwater event. After TBAY’s first year of involvement, Bennett hosted an open water clinic at Westchase for SAA swimmers from the Westchase, Arbor Green, and Countryside branches of TBAY.
Bennett returns this year as the event’s master of ceremonies.
While participation in the open ocean swim is no easy challenge, the event annually attracts swimmers across all ages. Participants swim a half mile, a full mile or a 2.4-mile swim. Participation in the 2.4 miler, however, comes with a stipulation that each swimmer must raise a minimum of $1,000.
In 2015, TBAY Westchase swimmers Madeline Strasen and Isabel Minnis swam the 2.4. They’ll be swimming it again this year. Strasen was the top fundraiser under the age of 18 in 2014. Last year, Minnis was the second highest fundraiser in that same age group.
“I think the main reason I participate in Swim Across America is that it’s an event that brings the whole Tampa Bay community together,” observed Minnis.
While she’s hoping for a quicker personal time in this year’s swim, for Minnis, the event’s fundraising is also important. “Hopefully Tampa Bay Aquatics can raise more money than it did last year for cancer research for Moffit Cancer Center.”
This year’s swim is May 21 at Pier 60, Clearwater Beach. TBAY Westchase swimmers are already hard at work training and raising money for the event.
“A lot of our kids get very excited about it,” said Richardson, “And work hard on the fundraising.”
Swimmers of all ages, whether individuals or teams, can still participate in the event. Swimmers in the two shorter distances commit to raising a minimum of $200 if they are under 18 and $500 for ages 18 and over.
“This will be my third year,” West Park Village resident Brenda Bennett said of her participation.
Bennett, her sons Zachary and Joshua, and her husband Wade have participated in the event since 2013, either as swimmers or volunteers. (Her sons currently swim for TBAY Countryside.)
“For us it is about Mrs. Kimura. To honor her,” Bennett said. “We dedicate our swims to Kory Kimura’s mom. It’s something that we can do.”
For more information, visit http://www.SwimAcrossAmerica.org/TampaBay!
TBAY Nation has 1st Spring Festival
TBAY had its 1st team wide Spring Festival on April 9th held at Tampa Preparatory school the home of TBAY Central. TBAY Nation had all 7 branches in attendance with over 350 athletes and families in attendance. The event was a HUGE success with lots of food, games, dunk tank, bounce house and waterslide all set up around the pool. We also celebrated our Olympic trial qualifiers! Thank you to all our volunteers and coaches that made this event a great success for TBAY Nation!
up with TBAY Alum Chelsea (Nauta) Colwill
Even though she’s been away from competitive swimming for a few years now, Chelsea Nauta Colwill still gets her competitive fix on a daily basis.
But instead of in the pool, she fulfills her natural desire in her new position as a healthcare solutions provider for Greenway Health in Tampa, Fla., her hometown.
It’s all part of her innate desire to be the best at whatever she does.
“I really like winning; some people say they hate losing, but I think winning drove me in swimming,” she said. “In my profession now, I compete with my colleagues all the time, and I realize that I like the winning part more than the reward of winning…even though financial compensation is nice, too.”
In addition to her professional life, Colwill married two-time U.S. Olympic diver Chris Colwill last May. The two met while both living and training at the University of Georgia, where they were both All-Americans.
Colwill enjoyed a successful swimming career with the Bulldogs, and also made the U.S. National team. Internationally, she was part of the 2011 World University Games Team and 2011 Pan American Games Team. She won gold in the 800m free relay at WUGs and Pan Ams, and a silver medal in the 200m free at Pan Ams.
to read the full article on USA Swimming.
Thanksgiving Team Picnic
TBAY families from all 7 branches came together for a Thanksgiving Team Picnic at John Chestnut Sr. State Park. It was a wonderful team event with fantastic games and delicious food! Thank you Coach Sue and TBAY Countryside for putting this fabulous event together. A big thank you to all the volunteers that help with set up and getting the event ready! Looking forward to our next team picnic in the Spring of 2016 (Info Coming Soon)
here for more event