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Swim program hopes to help teammate kick cancer

It is a swim tradition mostly reserved for the guys.

Guys gather with hair buzzers and Bic razors to shave their heads (and sometimes more) for high school conference and state championship meets – doing whatever it takes to shave even a hundredth of a second off their times.

Thornapple Kellogg junior Lydia Cole said her brother Reece, now 20 studying at the University of Oklahoma, shaved his head once while a part of the Delton Kellogg-Thornapple Kellogg-Hastings varsity boys' swimming and diving team.

“He didn't really like it, so I was kind of surprised that he shaved his head again,” Lydia said.

They did it together in July.

“It kind of freaked me out at first when I first heard I was going to go through chemo, because I knew I was going to lose my hair obviously. But it wasn't that big of a deal when I finally lost it. It was kind of fun, like I get to experience this when most people don't,” said Lydia who was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors days before the conclusion of her sophomore year last May. She started her first chemotherapy treatments in June.

“It was actually really nice. (Reece), who I am really close with, he shaved his head with me. My brother's best friend (Nick Smith), who is really close to me also, shaved his head too. They let me shave it for them. It was really fun. When my hair was mostly off, my brother finished it for me. It was really cool actually.”

Another cool thing will happen Thursday evening (Oct. 24) at the Community Education and Recreation Center pool in Hastings. The Delton Kellogg-Thornapple Kellogg-Hastings varsity girls' swimming and diving team will host Wayland Union for its annual Cancer Awareness Meet. The meet begins at 6 p.m.

“Lydia has continued to swim and hasn't missed a meet, a practice (except for treatments), or a set,” DK-TK-Hastings head coach Carl Schoessel wrote in a letter to the OK Conference Tier II coaches that compete against the DK-TK-Hastings girls all fall long. “She is an amazing young woman, just the kind of person all of us want on our teams.

“Each year for the past several years, starting when my wife (Loretta) began losing her battle with breast cancer, we have done a Cancer Awareness Meet with another team toward the end of our regular season, and for the past few years the meets have been with the Wayland Union team. We do some fundraising and over the years have donated several thousand dollars to the American Cancer Society, although the fundraising has not been our main purpose in doing this meet.

“This year, because of the monumental medical bills that Lydia's family is coping with, I told (Wayland coach) Seth (Beat) that we were dedicating our season to Lydia and would use our share of the fundraising from the Cancer Awareness Meet to help the Coles instead of sending our share of the money to the American Cancer Society. Without hesitation, Seth indicated that the Wayland folks would do the same.”

Purple “Team Lydia” T-shirt sales and a donation race between the four communities of Delton, Hastings, Middleville and Wayland continue on the website. The donation board on the webpage had the total raised at over $7600. Donations can also be made to the Lydia Cole Fund at any Highpoint Community Bank location.

The event slogan for next Thursday is “Four Communities, Two Teams, One Family,” but the event is carrying beyond those four communities.

Lydia said part of that total so far was a sizable donation raised by the Caledonia-Lowell-South Christian (CLS) program. DK-TK-Hastings, Wayland and CLS shared the OK Conference Tier II girls' swimming and diving championship a year ago.

Monies raised won't just go to the Coles' bills and expenses. Lydia plans to make sure some funds get to organizations that have helped support her fight. The Pediatric Oncology Resource Team (P.O.R.T.) at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids is one specifically Lydia would like to see benefit from the event Thursday.

“When I was in the hospital for my first round of chemo they came in and brought us a lot of stuff, even gave me a blanket, and they were really nice,” Lydia said. “They do that for a lot of people at the hospital. They gave a bunch of stuff to my parents.”

P.O.R.T. is a group of volunteer families serving families with a child battling cancer or a life threatening blood disorder, focused on sharing information about diagnoses, treatments, coping skills and parenting methods while also offering families care bags, snacks, and phone/gas cards among other things.

“We are families helping families,” reads the program's webpage.

Lydia would also like to help other pediatric cancer patients.

“When I was on my first type of chemo, my second round, I had to go in to the hospital to get it through an i.v. and I met a bunch of people in the infusion area and they were just the nicest people. Nobody had the same thing going on. You just got to learn about everyone. I want to donate to everyone and not just specific thing.

“I met a four-year-old girl who was just running around saying 'hi' to everyone. She didn't care that she had cancer. She just wanted to say 'hi' to them.”

Scans showed spots on Lydia's pancreas and liver remained in August after her first type of chemotherapy. She and her parents made a trip to Houston for a second opinion with a specialist in August, and she is currently working on her third round of her second form a chemotherapy – one she can take orally so she said there isn't a need for her to miss much school, or swimming, at all. She said there are plans for a new scan next month, and she hopes to find out the opinion of the Houston doctors soon.

The trip to Houston in August wasn't all about doctor's visits. Lydia said she got to go visit her brother Reece in Oklahoma on the way. She wouldn't typically get to see him until Christmas time.

Lydia followed her siblings, Reece and Madi, a 22-year-old doing her student teaching and nearing a degree from Central Michigan University, into the water at an early age. She began swimming with the Middleville Minnows in first grade, joined the Hammerheads Swim Club in third grade, and joined her DK-TK-Hastings teammate, sophomore Abby Marcukaitis, on the East Grand Rapids Aquatics swim club last winter.

Lydia teamed with Marcukaitis and DK-TK-Hastings teammates Anna Haywood and Juliann Meeker to place 41st in the 200-yard freestyle relay, with a time of 2 minutes .02 seconds, last Saturday at the Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association Meet (MISCA) at Calvin University in Grand Rapids – a gathering of many of the best high school swimmers in the state.

Her favorite race is the 100-yard breaststroke.

“It has always been my favorite, since day one of swimming,” Lydia said. “I feel like it always kind of came natural to me more than the other ones, so I have always just done it and always enjoyed it.”

She placed ninth at the OK Conference Tier II Championship Meet at the end of her sophomore season in the 100-yard breaststroke – earning a time of 1:20.28.

It wasn't a win for Lydia personally or for the DK-TK-Hastings girls' team when it opened the conference season with a loss to Ottawa Hills last month, but Lydia did earn a runner-up time of 1:20.57 in the 100-yard breaststroke in the CERC pool that evening.

“It just felt really good to know that I haven't really lost anything and the cancer hasn't stopped me from doing that,” Lydia said of nearly matching her conference meet time from a year ago in her first competition of the 2019 varsity season.

“Life is pretty normal. It helps to be busier, because I am not thinking about it as much. Swim definitely keeps me busy,” Lydia said.

The DK-TK-Hastings girls typically have two or three meets a week throughout the season. Lydia said the girls swim close to 5000 yards every practice, maybe 6000 when coach Schoessel is really pushing them.

She had a few teammates visit her during her hospital stay early in the process, and more have gathered for a couple benefits this summer, one where a portion of sales from Dairy Queen in Hastings went to the Cole family on an August evening and one held at the end of July with food, games and raffle prizes in the family's neighborhood.

“They raised a lot of money. I was really surprised,” Lydia said. “It was so nice that everyone came, and some people that I hadn't seen in years even came. My parents (Ryan and Kelly Cole) used to own a business, it was a gym, a lot of people from the gym who I used to see, every morning I would go there before elementary school, and I would see a bunch of people. All of them came in and it was really nice to see all of them it was a lot of fun.”

Hammerheads Swim Club head coach Judge Mike Schipper kept the members of the local swim club up to date with Lydia's progress throughout the summer. The Hammerheads shared a signed T-shirt and poster with Lydia at theu benefit in July.

“When someone joins our team they become part of our Hammerhead family. Over the past 10 years I’ve been blessed to coach hundreds of swimmers from over 10 different schools and homeschooled. All Hammerheads,” coach Schipper said in a note to the Hammerheads early this month. “We try and teach the kids the importance of team and the value of every member. When someone wins we all cheer and when someone struggles we pick them up. Every team says those words, but we want to truly practice them.”

“The meet is a cancer awareness meet and an opportunity to support Lydia,” he added. “I am canceling practice that night so that anyone who wants to go and watch a high school meet and support Lydia can be there.
“Any support is appreciated by the family, being there, prayers and donations.”

Each fall at the Cancer Awareness Meet the DK-TK-Hastings girls don pink swim caps, which will honor “Team Lydia” this time around, and the girls write the names of friends and family who have fought or continue to battle cancer in pink marker on their bodies – with everyone saving a special place for “Loretta,” who passed away in August of 2011.

“I sometimes also have my grandpa, who passed away from non-Hodgkins lymphoma,” Lydia said. “I don't have a lot of other people that have had cancer, and a lot of times I will just go with whatever anyone else wants to write on me to help honor other people that they know.”

The event Thursday will also include a Chuck-A-Duck fundraiser where spectators can throw rubber ducks from the balcony, looking to land them in the center of a a floating life ring in the pool to win a prize.

While Lydia finds it a bit weird to be the center of attention for the event she said, “I think it'll be a fun meet. I always enjoy the cancer meet, because it is against Wayland, one of our close friends and I really like the Wayland girls.”

She said she has gotten past any feelings of fear she had surrounding her diagnosis.

“The diagnosis isn't the tough part. It is the rest of it, going through scans and not knowing what the outcome is going to be and when the outcome isn't so great having to deal with it. I feel like I have handled it a lot better than I expected. It doesn't scare me that much anymore, because I know that I can beat it.”

First she'll find out if she and her teammates can beat the Wildcats.

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