Dear Mom: A Senior Speech By LSU’s Caley Oquist

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.

Dear Mom,

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.




In This Story


  1. swimmermama says:

    Caley, This is a lovely, touching tribute to your mother. As a mother, I can tell you that your mother is undoubtedly very proud of the beautiful, accomplished young woman you have become. Congratulations on all your accomplishments and best wishes for a successful future.

  2. SUNY Cal says:

    Wow, what a beautiful story to read!!! Your mother would be soooo proud of you. Best of luck as you move on with your life.

  3. birdie Rotramel says:


    We knew your wonderful mom because of USA swimming. We attended her funeral. We still have our bracelets.

    One of Albert Einstein’s theories helps me in the loss of a loved one. “ALL LIVING THINGS HAVE ENERGY AND WHEN THE LIVING THING DIES THAT ENERGY IS RELEASED AND IS ALWAYS PRESENT.”

    I believe that energy is our soul and our spirit. I call it our LIFE ENERGY. May your MOM’s LIFE ENERGY continue to surround you and support you from the other side.

    As a SWIM MOM just like your SWIM MOM sending you LOVE from Minnesota.

    Birdie Rotramel

    • Caley Oquist says:

      I am so happy to hear you knew my mom! Thank you for your support and attending the funeral, and still having the bracelets. I have mine on my water bottle, on my wrist and another on my key chain. She was an amazing women, and I am glad she is still being remembered by others!

      God speed,


      • Gail Ann Witzel says:

        Thank you, Caley, for letting us know how you are after these years away. Minnesota Swimming remembers your mom fondly and with great respect for her courage and grit. We, and she, are all proud of you for allowing her gifts to live on in you. All the best to you in your next great adventure. She will find you in it.
        Gail Ann and John Witzel

  4. SwimFL says:

    Caley, I am sure you need time away from swimming. But when the time is right, there’s Masters swimming. It is a whole new life of swimming because we do it for ourselves to be healthy, balanced adults with full-time jobs and families. You will love the sport in a way that may or may not be competitive, but the peace you feel in the water is something that is constant with the sport of swimming. Masters swimming is a family too. The people are amazing and for those of us who REALLY love swimming, coworkers and friends outside of the sport won’t understand why we jump in the cold pool or plan our taper (ha!) around Masters Nationals, which is just a big reunion in a lot of ways. If you don’t know… is the place to start. Good luck with your adventure in life away from college and collegiate swimming. It doesn’t get easier, but it’s equally as wonderful!

  5. SwimMom says:

    Touched, congratulations for your swimming and your graduation!

  6. Jenn Piepgras says:

    Caley- what a wonderful letter to your mom. As a Coach for Foley Minneota I was lucky to watch you compete through your high school years. I was always inspired by your graciousness towards others at all times. You are a swimmer that the girls on my team looked up to. I still talk about you to my team to teach them about perseverance and overcoming adversity. You are an incredible role model in the sport of Competitive Swimming. Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt letter.

    • Caley Oquist says:

      Thank you so much. This brought a tear to my eye and is exactly why I swim (swam). This sport has done so much for me as a person and I am so thankful to hear that it was noticed. Anytime, if you’d like, me to come speak to your team, I am happy to do so. Thank you for the kind words, they will be cherished.

  7. Vicki Marsh says:

    Need the tissues. Well written!!!

  8. Deb Rathbone says:

    Caley this was well written because the words came from your heart!

  9. Deb Hoaby says:

    Hey Caley
    Your third grade teacher here. I am not surprised about how successful and loving you continue to be. You’re your mom’s girl. And you own person too I wish you the best.

  10. Rose Peters says:

    Caley, I just had breakfast with Mary Cannon and I know she and Coach Tom are so very proud of you. You were a Pinewood student and I remember you from back then. You grew into a special person from the age of 11 and are a perfect example of love, life and determination. Congratulations on your future and I know we’ll be reading about you in the future. Your work is not done yet.

  11. Paul Ebert says:

    Great tribute Caley! The Monticello Swim Club is still awarding the Heidi Oquist Memorial Scholarship, even though most of the swimmers were too young to remember her. It was an honor to have your brother Shane award the scholarships this year. Your mom is still touching the lives of the swim community in the Monticello area!!

  12. Dan Wetterstrom says:

    Caley, what a beautiful tribute to your mom. She was a great woman. I also loved how you recognized your amazing dad. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation! Take care and know that the Wetterstroms smile whenever we think of you! Yours, Dan

  13. Denise (Eidem) Green says:

    As a swim coach (Elk River) who knew your mom and swim official who watched you mature at Monticello both in and out of the pool, I am so proud of you. Good luck to you as you continue in this journey of life. Your mom will always be with you.

  14. Samantha Abbas says:

    I was your Mums roommate when I was a freshman and your Mum and Dad tried to teach me how to drive. I will always remember the cookies your grandma used to send your Mum. She would be overwhelmed with pride.
    Many kind regards
    Samantha Abbas(Purvis)

  15. Mary Jo and Kevin Jepson says:

    As a member of your church family, I am so very proud of you, Caley. We all loved your mom and know that your words here are perfect! How proud your dad and Cindy must be! Congratulations on graduation and our family is sending love as you pursue your career dreams!
    Love, The Jeosons

  16. Jim nack says:

    Wow wow wow….awesome Caley!! Congrats from Minnesota!!

  17. AAA says:

    What an awesome letter with many lessons within. Well done:)) A+++ I didn’t know you but have seen you swim for years. I am the swim mom of a MN swimmer finishing her Freshman year as a D1 swimmer too, who lost her older sister to heaven when she was 10. I know how that has affected her so I can only try to imagine the loss of your mother!! I knew a little of your story, but this is a great tribute to you, your mom, your dad, and all those who pulled you through. No doubt you will continue to succeed in the game of life and make both of your parents proud. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Kaye Sharp says:

    Wow! My son in law, Tyler Anderson, whom you idolized as that Young “diva” little girl in the pink goggles! Your Mom was his coach also, in Monticello Minnesota!

    I so enjoyed reading this article on the connection you had with your mom! Having lost my Dad when I was 29 years old, I know that you will find your new place, in which you will hear her voice and her direction!

    Tyler lost his Mom, two years ago, so I know that this article speaks volumes to him also! I know that she ,as well as your Dad, and all of your coaches, Are beyond proud of you ,for the contribution that you have made to LSU!! However, I have a distinct feeling, that they are more proud of you , because you are a woman of courage, deep thinking and success!

    I wanted to respond ,as I think it is important, in your situation , for others, to recognize the strength it takes to move on, after a parent has passed away!

    I’m sure you have a bit of your Mom’s “stubbornness”,so this life will bring you many challenges but you will overcome them with Grace!

    Kaye Sharp

  19. Wendy Suddard says:

    Caley, this was very touching and I cried through it. I remember when you helped work with a grief student at Little Mountain Elementary. I so appreciated that. I will make sure and share this with my buddy and another one of your early swim mentors, Cathy Thomas.

  20. Isabella says:

    My mom died too and this is so true my mom actually brought swimming to my life! I try as hard as I can for my mom!

  21. Jett Sheehy says:

    I can’t quit crying – well done

  22. Jenny Banas says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother and the sport you both loved. Congratulations on your graduation and best wishes for much success as your story continues!!

  23. Tami Skarie says:

    Caley– Courtney was one of the recipients of The Heidi Oquist Scholarship that was given out from the Monticello Swim Club. You brother Shane gave the scholarship and spoke about your mom to the new club swimmers that never had the honor of meeting her. Her love for swimming is still being honored and her story shared. We were so fortunate to be apart of Monticello High School swim team and Courtney got to call you her teammate. You a had a big impact on the team and you passed on the love of the sport to so many. Here is part of Courtney’s essay where she mentions your mom …If I receive this scholarship I feel the qualities I bring to the table will put me in a place that I have a chance of making an impact on fellow students and athletes in my next adventure at MSUM, which was a great quality of Heidi’s: helping others succeed. I get to be apart of a whole new team which will become another second family to the one I already have acquired during my high school swimming career. My dedication to this sport will speak loudly for my character as an athlete to my new coach, I will help my teammates the best I can to make sure they also succeed alongside me, which will earn me their respect. My perseverance through my schooling will help me work with others and boost them up to be better students and learners as well. College is going to be new, it’s going to be tough to find a rhythm with my coach, my classes, and my lifestyle. It will be tough to make an impact on my college of 8,000; but as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said “Perseverance is a great element of success. If you knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody”, and I plan to keep knocking until someone notices.

  24. Tami Skarie says:

    Caley – What a great dedication to your mom. She is still a huge presence with the Monticello Swim Club today. Courtney had the honor of being one of the recipients this year for The Heidi Oquist Scholarship through the Monticello Swim Club. Your brother Shane spoke about your mom and shared her story to the new and upcoming club swimmers that never were fortunate enough to meet your mom. Courtney was lucky to call you her teammate and we had so much fun being a part of the Monticello High School Girls Swim Team and being a part of your high school swim career. The passion you have for swimming made a huge impact on the girls and you were a big role model to so many. What your mom taught you has been felt by many. This is part of Courtney’s essay where she spoke about your mom….. ‘I believe the qualities I now have because of swimming will allow me to have a positive impact on my fellow students and athletes in my next adventure at MSUM, which was a great quality of Heidi’s: helping others succeed. I get to be a part of a whole new team, which in turn will become a second family to the one I already have acquired during my high school swimming career. My dedication to this sport will speak loudly for my character as an athlete to my new coach, I will help my teammates the best I can to make sure they also succeed alongside me, which will earn me their respect. My perseverance throughout my academic career will be a direct result of my swimming career thus far. Training for a swim season has shown me that hard work and effort, although not always immediate, do pay off in the long run. It will help me work with others and boost them up to be better students and learners also. College is going to be new, it’s going to be tough to find a rhythm with my coach, my classes, and my lifestyle. It will be tough to make an impact on my college student body of 8,000; but as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said “Perseverance is a great element of success. If you knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody”, and I plan to keep knocking until someone notices’

  25. Dawn and Lindsey says:

    Hi Honey. Your Mom and I were close Cousins when she was 11. Its like she never left cause you carry the Legacy so gracefully. What happened to you happens to a lot of people. Its what you did with it that makes it special. YOU ARE THE CHAMPION! Congrats on Graduating. Keep swimming even if its not in the pool. She is with you and all of us. Love from Denver

  26. Christy (Olson) Kowalzek says:

    Graduations and all of your achievements! This is beautifully written and brings tears to my eyes. Your mother was such an inspiration for all of us young ladies on her swim teams. Beautiful in every sense of the word, she is forever missed but never forgotten.
    You will be amazing, just like her.

  27. Cindy lower says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your Mom and Dad. You sure have grown into a beautiful young lady. Congratulations on all your accomplishments.

  28. Joe Maselli says:

    I am very touched by your words, your passion and mostly your love for your mother. I lost my son in his senior year of college and I often try to live my life in a way that would make him proud. You succeeded in doing that for your Mom, your Dad and your team. God bless you. What a success. I promise you that your mother is with you and is so very proud of all that you do. And I am a Tulane grad but one who recognizes greatness even if you wear purple and gold.

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About Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh is a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Arizona and the University of Florida. She got her M.S. in Criminology from Florida State and seems exceptionally confused about which team she should cheer for during the college football season. Lauren is currently working on her M.A. in …

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