April 11, 2013
The University of Minnesota women's swimming and diving team put together one of its greatest seasons in program history in 2012-13, not only winning its second-straight Big Ten title, but also placing 10th at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. But sophomore Katie Anton and senior Haley Spencer did not let the Gophers' success stop there, as the pair brought together its team to raise $5,000 for Relay for Life over the weekend.
"I knew the swimming and diving team had participated in Relay for Life in the past, but we didn't end up doing it last year," Anton said. "I knew Haley had been a part of it, so I text her to see how she would feel about doing the event again. She was on board, so we presented the idea at one of our team meetings, and everyone was really excited about it."
The premise behind the event hit home with both Anton and Spencer, who have each lost a loved one to cancer.
"Cancer is something that really touches home to a lot of people, so I think that it was something that our team really jumped on board with," Anton said. "For me, personally, two of my family members have died from cancer. We also have someone on our team who is a cancer survivor, so I think that was another big part of it for a lot of us."
"One of the reasons we didn't do Relay for Life last year was because my friend actually passed away from cancer last February, so I wasn't quite ready to participate," Spencer said. "I was still grieving a little bit. So, when Katie brought it up this year, I thought, you know what, let's go and raise some money and let's get the entire team behind it."
Anton and Spencer not only got the entire women's swimming and diving team behind them, but also recruited the men's swimming and diving team and Gopher alumni to donate money and participate.
With their effort, the team entered the day of Relay for Life just under $200 short of its goal. But, Anton had another great idea to keep money rolling in as the event took place, as the sophomore had the Gophers bring supplies for s'mores and the team sold the tasty treats for $1 apiece to participants.
"Most teams do an on-site fundraiser during the Relay for Life," Spencer said. "So, Katie came up with the idea of s'mores. People from our team brought supplies and we sold them for $1, and all of that money went toward our team total at the end of the night. We definitely sold some s'mores! We came into the event $190 short of our goal of $5,000. So, we made our 5,000th dollar by selling those s'mores."
"Getting to $5,000, I think, was a pretty big moment for me, and it came right after the Luminaria Ceremony," Anton said. "These guys came up to us and ordered two s'mores and as I was counting we realized that we had reached our goal."
According to the Relay for Life website, the Luminaria Ceremony is a time to remember people we have lost to cancer, to support people who currently have cancer, and to honor people who have fought cancer in the past. The power of this ceremony lies in providing an opportunity for people to work through grief and find hope.
For the duo, the Luminaria Ceremony was one of the most profound moments of their entire experience.
"I think a large majority of our team was crying during the Luminaria Ceremony," Anton said. "They ask you to walk in silence, so basically there is just music going and you walk around and see at least 500 bags just sitting there and you have this realization that it is not even close to the amount of people we have lost to cancer. It makes you wonder what more you can do. I know I want to do something else and something more. It was a cool experience."
One person the Gophers were remembering during their Relay for Life experience was former legendary Minnesota head coach Jean Freeman, who passed away on October 14, 2010, following a positively-fought battle with cancer.
"The one person that we were really walking for was Jean Freeman, who was a really great coach here at Minnesota," Anton said. "She passed away from cancer a couple years ago and we made a luminary for her. I don't think a lot of us knew her personally, but we know the legacy that she left. She changed women's swimming at Minnesota and that is something that I was passionate about in dedicating a lot of what we did for her."
Anton and Spencer's dedication to raising money for Relay for Life culminated in a $5,000 donation to the fight against cancer and instilled a sense of pride into themselves, as well as their family, friends, teammates and fans.
"I was shocked that we raised $5,000, and I was very proud to tell my family and friends that we managed to raise that much," Spencer said. "I know that, in the grand scope of things, $5,000 doesn't seem like a lot, but I think that it shows how much our team cared. Because, not a lot of us raised $5,000, and it was because of friends, family and alumni that donated that we were able to raise that much and we were able to do that well."
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