Courtesy of Julia Galan
Kristy Kowal is known for her many accomplishments in the swimming world, from her silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia to her “oh my gosh!” surprise victory at the 1998 World Championships in Perth to her multiple American and world record-breaking swims. But one of her most inspiring swims yet – in her eyes – takes place every September at a local swimming pool in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
On September 19th, 2015, Kristy teamed up with 9-year old Pennsylvania swimmer Carly Lenett to give diabetes a run for its money. For the fourth year in a row, the pair swam side-by-side for 75 minutes together, non-stop, raising funds (over $25,000) and awareness for the American Diabetes Association.
The idea for the swim was first conceived in 2012 when Carly, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at just three years old, was preparing for the ADA’s nationwide Step Out and Walk fundraiser. A swimmer since the age of 4, Carly asked her family if she could swim the walk instead. Although dad Mitchell – also a Type 1 diabetic – initially replied “No, you have to walk the walk!”, the idea germinated and the Annual Carly Lenett Swim for Diabetes was born.
In 2012, at the age of seven, Carly swam 100 laps and raised over $9,000. In her second year of the swim, Carly had Kowal by her side. Together they swam 110 laps and raised $11,000. This year, with Kristy at her side, Carly swam in honor of fellow diabetic and friend Naomi Halperin, who passed away in December 2014. For Carly, an ADA Youth Ambassador, the swim was a piece of cake and the experience itself was inspiring to all spectators and sponsors involved, not least Kristy Kowal.
Kristy shared her account of the event with us. Below is her story, in her own words.
I first got to know Carly and become involved in her initiative through my friend Tim O’Connor, a teacher and head coach of the swim team at Emmaus High School, about 45 minutes away from where I live and teach. In 2013, prior to Carly’s second swim, Tim told me her story. I was completely blown away by her motivation to help others at such a young age. He asked me if I would be interested in being a part of her swim, given that she was a fellow swimmer and a third-grader, which is the grade that I teach, and I said – OF COURSE!!
So, for the past three years, I have traveled to Emmaus High School to be part of this very special day. I swim with Carly and host a small swimming clinic for an hour before our event starts.
Before our swim starts I first help Carly put on her cap. I think this is my favorite part of the pre-swim! Then, to the tune of Katy Perry’s “Roar”, we hold hands, jump into the pool ((screaming because we both share a hate of that first dive into the cold water!) and off we go. We swim side-by-side, stroke for stroke. She makes me laugh so hard on the flip turns that I have to come up gasping for air. SHE gives ME the thumbs ups sign. We do mermaid wiggles, spins, and fist pumps underwater on every turn and every few strokes I see her smiling over at me. She holds her pace for the entire swim. The only time she ever stops is if I have to fix my goggles. If I look up to see how far we have gone, she looks over to check up on me!
During the entire swim, I can’t help but be in complete awe of Carly. At her age I thought a 50 was long distance. A 100 was a marathon for me. This girl is going to swim the English Channel one day!
We swim to the sound of cheers, kazoos, and bells the entire way. Her classmates walk up and down the pool with us, cheering for Carly. In the final laps, the screams are so loud we look at each other under the water and scream too. We hit the wall at the end and the place goes wild. A high ten for both of us and a huge hug – and we did it! I’m convinced Carly could have kept swimming all day long if we hadn’t set a specific goal.
The best thing about being an Olympian is being able to give back to the community that helped you so much. But I had to wait until I was 21 to first start doing that. Carly is ten and has been giving back since she was seven! She is an inspiration to any age group! I told her that she now ranks with my heroes – Janet Evan and Summer Sanders as swimmers, my mom (because she’s amazing and she was a teacher), and now Carly.
This swim was all Carly. I was lucky enough that she invited me along for the ride!
Carly‘s mission is to show everyone, especially other kids, that having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t be a regular kid. In addition to swimming, she also does gymnastics, rides horses, and loves to paint, all the while managing her disease. Find out more about Carly in our interview with her here. You can also still donate to Carly’s cause. Check out her page and see real-time progress on how much Carly has raised here.
ABOUT JULIA GALAN
Julia Galan is a lifelong competitive swimmer and a USA Swimming and U.S. Masters Swimming coach. Julia’s passion for the sport, for coaching and for writing led to the creation of Swimspire, a coaching and swimming inspiration source geared towards athletes of all levels and goals.