By Tom Cleary of the Westport News and Gregory Eggert
STAMFORD, Connecticut, October 1. "JUST 10 more minutes" Maura Marden told her husband Bill in early August. Maura and her three sons, competed in the Swim Across the Sound. The 15-mile swim from Port Jefferson, N.Y. to Captain's Cove in Bridgeport, Conn. is a fundraising event for the St Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport to raise money for cancer research. Her team, Team Pride II was the lead fundraiser, raising more than $20,000 in pledges.
The real pride however was having David, Danny and Bart in the water as she swam alongside the boat that Bill was piloting. The three young boys Maura took to the Y for a swim team tryout all those years ago were now young men, Danny and Bart are swimming in college and David recently graduated. The boys started their swimming career at the Westport Y swim team, while in high school they represented Fairfield Prep and all three sons swam competitively at the collegiate level for the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.
Maura played tennis while at St. Mary's College in South Bend, Ind. and she had taken up marathon running and swimming in what little spare time a swim team mom has remaining in any busy day that revolves around swim team. Maura was herself a breast cancer survivor and thought that all the scary stuff was behind her. In 2008, she was diagnosed with Acute Myleogenic Leukemia. Although weakened due to complications from a recent stem cell transplant, Maura made the decision to participate in part of this summer's Swim Across the Sound.
Maura was always one to pitch in and do something for others; to be a part of Swim Across the Sound was right up her alley. Linda Johnston, a friend for 22 years said: "Of all the things that can be said about her life, the grit and determination she demonstrated during the Swim Across the Sound was clearly one of her greatest achievements.' Maura recalled that spectacular August day from her hospital bed earlier this week, "The greatest moment was the day I swam with the boys."
On Sept. 27, Maura lost her battle and succumbed to her illness at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. She loved her family as deeply and as passionately as anyone possibly could. Still, she was active in many local causes and, in particular, those that dealt with swimming. Three swim coaches who worked with Maura and her children at the Westport Y remember this ultimate Team Mom and talk about the wonderful giving person that they knew so well.
Bob Knobel, former Aquatic Director at the Westport Y recalls: "I met Maura and her sons Danny, Dave, and Bart in a neighbor's backyard when they were 8, 6 and 4 years old. Dave and Danny were playing in the pool and looked like they really liked being in the water. Knowing that the Westport Y Water Wrat swim team tryouts were coming up in a couple of weeks, I invited Maura to bring the boys to the Y. Maura was skeptical as they really didn't know how to swim. But I said they looked like good kids and well behaved and that mattered more to me than their ability at this point."
Knobel remembers "Dave and Danny showed up with all that energy I saw in the neighbor's pool but they struggled through tryouts. And they cried. Maura called and said no way can they do this. I said sure they can, I'll work with them. Both Dave and Dan joined the swim team and later Bart followed his older brothers. All three of the boys really worked hard to learn the skills they needed to succeed. The boys were great kids and team mates. All three went on to score points for the team at Y Nationals in relay and individual events."
"Maura was the Mom any kid would love to have and any team felt blessed to be associated with. I am sure that Danny, Dave and Bart would agree with me" says Knobel. "She supported her kids and every child on the team in any way she could, always with a sense of humor and positive attitude. Bake sales, timing at swim meets, chaperoning the National Team trips to Y Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, serving as the parents club chairman, if it needed to be done, Maura was there. I recruited Maura to teach swimming lessons to young children at the Y and then mentoring a Masters swimming class also at the Y. She was awesome at both. Her Masters class involved as much laughter as swimming and she developed some of her closest friends in the pool during the daily hour of class.
"As popular as Maura was, she was very private about her personal trials" Knobel remembers, "only once did Maura talk about her illness. We had an hour long conversation about four years ago and I remember the conversation well. I had retired from my job as Aquatics Director at the Y and moved to Sun Valley Idaho to work as a fishing guide. Maura told me that she was struggling with her health but in a way that was positive and graceful. She told me that her cancer was just a challenge to be overcome and never spoke about it being a life threatening illness. I will always remember Maura with a smile on her face. She is truly an unforgettable person."
Bill Krumm was the once the head coach of the Westport Y team and now works for USA Swimming as the Western Zone Sport Development consultant. "I remember that Maura placed her boys on the Westport Y Water Wrats swim team because she thought it was a good place for them. The boys did not think so at the start. Initially, practices were challenging for them but all these years later things turned to work out really well for Danny, David and Bart as they swam at Y Nationals and competed for a Division 1 swimming program. Who would you say is responsible for this success story? I say it's Maura."
Krumm adds: "Maura was a tremendous volunteer and she was always supportive of the coaches. She would step up at every parent meeting to recognize a member of the coaching staff. I remember a funny situation that Maura once related to me. Dave and Danny had qualified for Y Nationals which are held in Florida. She took Bart out of school for the week so that he could watch his older brothers swim in the Nationals. The meet was about to start and Maura told me that she almost forgotten to make an important phone call. She rushed to a pay phone to alert school back in Connecticut that "Bart was sick and might be out of school for a few days, possibly the rest of the week". Of course just as the school answering service was recording her message, the meet announcer on the PA shouted 'Good morning Fort Lauderdale' exposing the ruse. I still chuckle at that funny situation all these years later."
"We all know Maura had a way to be there for anyone who needed her and she always had only the best interest of the team and not just of her sons" offered Krumm. "I am always appreciative of her unselfish service to others and moved by the fact that she was a Y national chaperone for several years before any of her sons had qualified for the Y Nationals. Maura was a Mom to all the Westport Y kids that attended Nationals over the 11 years she was with us in Fort Lauderdale. They all loved her and she made them all feel so relaxed and at home during the Nationals. She had many friends on the team and in town too. She was a tremendous lady and despite the adversity she faced, she never gave up on making sure that she helped everyone else. I know she will be missed and I certainly miss her greatly."
"I know that Maura touched many lives but she made everyone feel as if you were her only friend" shared Ellen Johnston, the current head coach at the Westport Y. "Maura would deflect anything about her illness so that the conversation was always about a task that needed to be done and she would jump in and get it done. She never did things just for her sons, but instead for every member of our team, and she never did it for the thanks. She was the ultimate Team Mom, skilled any everything from running a meet to organizing a Y fundraiser."
Johnston shared this memory, "Maura told me that she was reading Natalie Coughlin's biography Golden Girl. Maura spoke of Natalie's determination to succeed and her hard work, and she also told me how much she respected Coughlin's coach at the University of California, Teri McKeever. McKeever was the first female coach for the women's Olympic swim team and she was a coach whose methods were at odds with much of the conventional wisdom amongst other swim coaches. McKeever resisted overtraining and spent a lot of time making sure her swimmers were whole and healthy. A week or so later I asked her what she thought about the book. Maura told me that she loved the book so much that she sent an email to Coach McKeever to thank her for being an inspiration to Natalie. Maura was the type of person that would do that, and she told me that Teri McKeever had taken the time to send her a thoughtful response back. I am in awe of this woman's determination to thank a swim coach for doing a great job with her athlete."
"After Maura's passing I went to the Marden home to visit with Bill and also with Dave, Danny and Bart. I was a complete mess but the boys were handling this far better than I was." said Johnston. "I know that the boys showed the same strength that Maura had. It was obviously one of her greatest gifts to her sons. She was my hero!"
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Fairfield Prep Swim Team in her memory.
Fairfield Prep Swim Team – Maura Marden Fund
C/O Fairfield Prep Development Office
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT 06824