First Part Link: The Notre Dame Swimming Team's Accident
(Some creative license has been used in this article. I take full responsibility for that and for any misstatements of facts)
Haley Scott retreated to the corner of the women's swim team locker room gazing at her feet. She needed time for herself to think and to prepare herself. Those feet, which had begun to move in the hospital a day after she prepared for life as a paraplegic, had walked miles in rehab and provided her with the kicks she needed for accomplishing another goal. She was about to swim her first meet in the 50 yard freestyle at Notre Dame.
Despite trying to concentrate on the moment and her prerace preparation, she could not help but think about how far she had come, how grateful she was for the support she received from her parents, her friends at Notre Dame, and the swim team as she worked towards her goals of returning for classes that fall and for swimming. The crash, its tragedy and the challenges she faced with six major surgeries, her hospital stays, the resulting rehabs and dealing with the pain and the separation from the Notre Dame community and from swimming had transformed her. She felt Meghan's and Colleen's presence daily. The hundreds of phone calls had helped with the challenges she had faced. She learned she could - and needed to - rely on so many others. It strengthened her faith and her trust in God.
All the interviews with the media the previous day broke the normalcy of her student life and of the joy of swimming. To see the swim pool's stands packed with others around the edge including some of the football team and Coach Holtz surprised her. She could feel the support today from fellow swimmers and Coach Welch. Her parents and family had flown in from Phoenix. Colleen's mom drove in from St. Louis.
She focused on the race to separate herself from the tangible anticipation and excitement in the air. She walked to the starting block and leaned down over her feet. With the blare of the starting horn, she pushed off as she had done thousands of times before into the crystal pool. A breath with the flip turn and she headed home, barely able to hear the shouts that were building. A touch at the wall and the cheers erupted, echoing off the walls. She had placed first.
Haley Scott-DeMaria, who married and has two children, was chosen by the Class of 2012 to give their commencement address. Some excerpts:
"It is often said that college is the best four years of your life. I disagree. Your time at Notre Dame has been special and unique, but I promise you, it is not all downhill from here. The best is yet to come."
"Look around you: your roommate, your classmate, perhaps your teammate or a professor. Think of how much you have learned from them. They have made you a better person, as you have made them. That is who we are at Notre Dame. As anyone who has experienced the student section in the Purcell Pavilion, Compton Family Arena, or in the football stadium knows, our strongest trait is our community."
"As a member of the Notre Dame family, I learned what is truly important in life: gratitude and making a difference. It is easy to make a living; it is more gratifying to make a difference."
"I truly believe that each of us has a choice every day; that each of us can wake up tomorrow and find something negative in our lives on which to focus. But that each of us can also wake up tomorrow and focus on and celebrate the blessings in our lives."
"There are three things that have sustained me, that have carried me through my challenges and have rejoiced with me. My faith, my family and my friendships. While academically, three "Fs" wouldn't be celebrated; in life, they are to be embraced. Faith, Family and Friendship."
"Notre Dame is a community of faith. You have lived it for four years. You will be sustained by it for the rest of your lives."
Celebrating Notre Dame - Afterwords
Some of the women swimmers were unable to return to the team. But fast friendships and unbreakable bonds were formed. The Beeler-Hipp award was created and is given annually to "the outstanding freshman who best exempliﬁes the vitality, competitiveness and love for Notre Dame shown by Meghan Beeler and Colleen Hipp". The women's swimming team has become a powerhouse winning the Big East championship a record fourteen straight times (1997-2010).
Haley Scott DeMaria received numerous awards, but among the most prized is the Spirit of Notre Dame Award. In her book, "What Though The Odds", Haley says:
What I wanted people to understand though, was that the award did not belong to me, but to Meghan, Colleen and the entire swim team for what we had overcome because of our strength as a unit, not because of us individually.
Today we can celebrate "the blessings in our lives", making a difference daily, and the community that is Notre Dame, which extends beyond a student body, faculty and administration. The fabric of this episode is woven into what is Notre Dame, which includes South Bend and all of those involved in making a difference in these women's lives, the alumni, and, certainly not least, Notre Dame's extended family of "Subway Alumni".
It's difficult for me to enumerate all the sources for this, but I would like to recommend and acknowledge:
Haley Scott DeMaria’s book, What Though the Odds (a good read)
Swim Team Bus Crash – und.com Archives
Leigh Montville’s SI article, One Year Later…
Various newspaper articles including the Observers from that time (feel free to post the picture of the bus overturned) including the SB Tribune’s article and a NY Times’ article, Notre Dame Mourns Two Swimmers Killed in Crash
LA Times’ Bill Dwyer’s article, Fatal Bus Crash was only the Beginning.
Never Forgetting (und.com) Catching Up with Haley Scott DeMaria (und.com’s article by Craig Chval)