BY Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Long-time USA Swimming corporate partner Phillips 66 has been a sponsor since 1973 and involved in the sport overall for seven decades. Today, Phillips 66 believes they can improve lives through energy, and in that spirit, usaswimming.org is highlighting swimmers of all levels who have benefited from Phillips 66's contribution and chosen to give back to the sport of swimming or to their community.
National Team member Madison Kennedy hails from Avon, a town nearby Newtown, Conn., where the elementary mass shooting took place last December. The tragic news broke her heart and shook her psyche, but not only because of the proximity of the incident.
Kennedy has a younger sister who is a first-grade teacher in Baltimore, little cousins and former kids she babysat. Thinking of them, sitting in classrooms in her home state, gave Kennedy a feeling of helplessness, fear and anger. She analyzed what happened that Friday morning, when 20 children and six teachers were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“All I could think of was losing my sister or imagining her in that classroom,” said Kennedy, now living and training in the Charlotte, N.C., area. “I may not have children, but all of us have a cousin, a sibling or a neighbor (who) you can never imagine losing to such a tragedy, and it connects us all to Newtown.”
“It was very important to me to go home and support Connecticut,” Kennedy, 25, said. “I may live elsewhere at the moment, but my heart belongs to a farm in Avon. Newtown is small, much like my hometown, much like all of our hometowns. I wanted to give back in the form of a clinic because I don’t know what else I can do. I am at a loss. No amount of money, celebrity appearances or petitions can bring back what we all have lost. But you give what you can and help those in any way, big or small. We are all mourning for the lives lost, and I am thankful to be given the opportunity to give my support in whatever way I can.”
Kennedy, along with fellow National Team members Kara Lynn Joyce, Anthony Ervin and Kim Vandenberg, showed their support by participating in a Mutual of Omaha BREAKout! Swim Clinic Jan. 6 at Hopkins School pool in New Haven, Conn. One of the children who died that Dec. 14 morning was 7-year-old Daniel Barden of the Newtown Torpedoes swim team.
The clinic was free to Barden’s Torpedo teammates, and then a $100 participation donation from swimmers from other surrounding teams went directly to the Newtown Family Fund – but everyone involved knew it was about more than just raising money.
“It was (an opportunity) to hopefully – and I think we did – bring smiles to these little kids faces,” said Joyce, a multiple Olympic medalist and three-time Olympian. “It absolutely was for all of them. I think it touched everyone. When you hear about something so awful, I think your first reaction is, 'How can I help.’ We had a lot of fun, and we tried to just make it a great experience for everyone.”
The daughter of Hopkins School’s swimming head coach Chuck Elrick came up with the idea of the Newtown Charity Swim Clinic. Chuck has been coaching at the school for over 20 years and hosted numerous Olympian visits in the past to inspire his swimmers.
His daughter suggested having another clinic to help out its neighbors in Newtown. So Chuck called Josh Davis, the director of the Mutual of Omaha BREAKout! Swim Clinic, to see if any Olympians would like to participate.
Davis, a three-time Olympic gold-medalist, sent out an e-mail to the entire U.S. National Team, asking for participants; the four who stepped forward (and had room on their calendars to participate) were eager to give back and help.
“Josh is a great man to have rallied his organization so quickly, and I am grateful to have been a part of a happy day,” Kennedy said. “I think that is hands down the quickest I have ever responded to an e-mail.”
The clinic involved working with the kids on stroke development and drills as well as racing against the National Team swimmers, who signed autographs and posed for photos with everyone who participated.
Mutual of Omaha also donated goody bags – which included two DVDs, a poster, a notebook and T-shirt that said, ‘I raced a gold medalist today! What did you do?’ – to participants.
Mutual of Omaha has been a major sponsor of USA Swimming since 2001 and the Olympian Tour called the Mutual of Omaha BREAKout! Swim Clinic since 2007. Mutual of Omaha has sponsored over 500 clinics for kids, with over 30 USA team members to over 400 different cities.
“I felt a clinic in honor of Newtown would be a great way all of us in the swimming community can do something tangible,” Kennedy said. “The USA swimmers donate their time to be with the kids, and the kids and parents can donate to Newtown. It’s a win-win. This clinic will be a great memory for these swimmers about how they helped with something bigger than themselves and possibly be a turning point in their career.”
Joyce agreed, saying being able to give back in some way may not have turned back time on a traumatic event.
“In this case, we couldn’t fix any of what was done, but I hope we brought joy to some little faces that experienced unnecessary tragedy,” Joyce said. “It was very touching, and the kids were all so sweet and appreciative. I just hope it made them happy.”