This piece was contributed by Caley Oquist . Caley is a senior and a sports administration major at Louisiana State University. She’s the LSU school record in the 100 and 200 back, as well as part of the school’s best-ever 400 medley relay.
Last time we saw each other I was 11 years old, fearless, carefree and in love with a sport that you introduced me to. You gave me no option and made me be your mold of a swimmer. You drug me to every practice, signed me up for every meet and allowed me into this world of swimming. I was a diva who wore pink goggles and would spend hours in our back yard pool in between practices because I was in love with this sport that drew me closer to you.
But then you got sick… really sick. You started to fade away and our biggest connection was this sport, the pool, the times, the meets. Until one day, you were no longer here, and you were called to heaven. You left me here when I was 11 years old to figure out what this world is, and how to be independent. And yet, after everything, swimming was our one connection. It was my way to feel you. When I dove in the water, and was surrounded with silence, I felt you around me and pushing me, no matter how hard I fought this sport, it was my way to reach you.
And now here I am, a decade later after your passing, graduating as an LSU swimmer, just like you. You paved this way for me and I followed in your footsteps. When I got to campus freshman year, you were everywhere. Even when I was going through the hardest workouts of my life, or when I was cleaning up the stadium, you were there. When I failed and succeeded, when I lost a race or when I broke a record. You stayed by my side and reminded me to keep fighting. Just like you once did.
And boy did I fight mom. But I did it; I made it through four years as a division 1 athlete. You would be so proud of me. But more so, you would be so proud of dad. He never stopped supporting me and caring for me. He loved me the way a father should love his daughter, and he was always my number one fan. He took a broken girl and fixed her wings and let her fly. He made your dreams come true. We owe him everything.
I wish you could have been here to meet my team, and my coaches. You would have argued with Dave because you both are so stubborn, but you would have respected him because he cared for me. He gave me the opportunity to follow in your footsteps, and I can’t thank him enough. He welcomed me into this team and allowed my dreams to come true. You would have loved Steve because you two shared the same passion for this sport, and the same short temper. But mom, Jeana is the person you should thank more than anyone. She took me under her wing and cared for me more than just an athlete. She saved me in more ways that she will ever know. She cared for me the way you would have and I know you two would be best friends. So I ask for you to be her daughter’s guardian angel, and give back to her what she did for me.
You would have loved the entire staff mom, but I’m not sure if they would love you because you would try to tell them how to do their job. But they all took care of us, the weight coaches, training staff, academic staff and coaches, they made us a family. And you would have loved my teammates, especially the senior class, because we all fought this battle together, side-by-side. We were all fighters, just like you.
More importantly, the team allowed me to miss you. They knew everything I did was because of you and not just by me, but by all of us, your name was said, and fought for. Your story was told, heard and remembered mom. I have lived my life for you and I cannot thank you enough for giving me this life. I became an LSU tiger because of you. If you hadn’t of come here, or if you wouldn’t have passed away, I never would have met Kara, Allie, Stacey, Cass, Devon, Colin or any of my teammates who are now my family. I have realized though that this is so much more than just saying goodbye to this sport, or this place, I am saying goodbye to us. In some ways the end to this chapter is an end to a bond I would have with you when I was in the water, or walking these grounds. I now have to find a new way to feel your presence.
And if I have learned anything from you it’s that life is bigger than these four years. And that there is so much joy out there and LSU was just a platform, just a starting spot for the rest of my life. You showed by the way you fought for your life and for your family that life is short so why not always be the best you can be and why not love with all you are. I love you so much and I miss you everyday mom. I am who I am because of who you were. If I become half the woman you were, I will have lived a life worth living.
So mom, as I am less then three weeks from graduating, and as I have hung up my goggles, I want to thank you for giving me this direction and being my guardian angel. Knowing this team, being an LSU swimmer, and being your daughter has shaped me into the woman I am today. I hope you got to see it all through Heavens eyes and I hope you are proud of your once 11-year-old girl who is now a LSU alum.