Stroke of bad luck doesn't sink this team


April 12, 1999|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ONE THRILL I GET from writing this column comes from knowing it will always be filled with good news -- those feel-good stories that remind readers that there are lots of kind, compassionate, talented people who are making a difference in this community.

So when I first heard about this story, I said, "It doesn't belong in my column. I'll have to talk to irate parents and fuming teen-agers who feel ripped off. Shouldn't this assignment go to a reporter?"

No, the story of the YMCA swim team belongs right here. It is the feel-good story of all feel-good stories.

Last month, Dan Soukup, Meredith Rathkamp, Leslie Edwards, Brianne Coons and Laura Moreau had the meet of their lives at the YMCA East Field Regionals at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Dan's time for the 50-yard freestyle was 22.86 seconds. The girls swam the 200-yard medley relay in 1 minute, 55.54 seconds, shaving 3 seconds off their time from the district meet weeks before.

"The girls had an out-of-your mind swim. They pulled it off when it counted," said coach Mike Kremer. "Dan had been knocking on nationals' door for a while, and this time his score got him in."

They knew all their times had qualified them for the YMCA Winter National swim meet in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which began last week; but what they didn't know was that a preregistration requirement would keep them from competing.

Kremer explained that if team members were expected to qualify for the national meet, forms had to have been submitted for them before the regional competition. Problems also arose after forms were lost in the mail.

There were days of frantic phone calls, pleas with national organizations, promises that somehow these five swimmers would make it to the competition.

"When we qualified for nationals, we were so excited," said Brianne, daughter of Linda and Mike Coons. "There is no way to describe what it felt like. It was so great. Then we found out that we might not be able to compete, and it was hard to concentrate in school while everyone was trying to work it out."

Around 8 p.m. Wednesday, the swimmers boarded a plane to Fort Lauderdale with Kremer and their assistant coach, Sabraya Ibrahim.

The travelers carried suitcases filled with sunscreen, sunglasses, shorts and swimsuits (in Brianne's case, a suit for each of the three days they would be there).

They also carried the bittersweet understanding that despite efforts by Kremer and Carroll County YMCA's executive director Celia Givens to correct that preregistration mistake, they wouldn't be allowed to compete.

With financial help from the local YMCA (much of the students' expense was covered with money from the team's budget), they made the best of a bad situation -- they would get to see the meet. Laura, a star tennis player at Liberty High School, had two matches she couldn't miss; so she wished her teammates well and stayed home.

"It was a comedy of errors, but life goes on with these wonderful kids," said Meredith's mother, Susan Rathkamp. "Next year, they will come back bigger and stronger."

Bigger and stronger -- the motto that teammate Dan has been chanting since the ordeal began. Many of the swimmers said Dan's cheers kept them going.

"We'll just have to whoop it up twice," said Dan, son of Michael and Jeannie Soukup. "I'd prefer to be going to Florida to compete, but going to watch and vacation makes up for half of it. This was all an unfortunate accident. We have to stay motivated. We'll qualify next year."

"I'm proud of these swimmers for their dedication throughout the years. They gave up a lot of social time and free time to swim," said Kremer, who has coached the Piranhas for five years. "They have set an example for others on the team to look up to."

"We never expected to make it to regionals, let alone nationals. We were so thrilled," said Laura, daughter of Joe and Anne Moreau. "The whole mix-up was upsetting, but I was impressed by how hard our coach tried to fix things. He tried everything in his power to get us down there. He is the best coach I have ever had."

Finding out that they wouldn't be allowed to compete "was very disappointing," Brianne said. "But it was out of our hands. There was nothing else anyone could do. It would be great to compete, but getting down there is nice, too. I'm very excited about going to the beach."

Each of these swimmers has qualified for YMCA Summer National meet in August at the University of Maryland, College Park.

They'll continue to dedicate their free time to practices and competitions so they can come back stronger and better in Florida next spring. Whoop it up twice, Piranhas; we'll be watching.

Lisa Breslin's Central neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 4/12/99

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