NEW YORK, May 21. LINDSAY Payne (Cleveland, OH/Lawrence, NY), an NCAA Division III swimming star at Williams College, has been named as the 2006 recipient of the 18th annual Honda Inspiration Award. This award is given annually to an outstanding female college athlete who has overcome adversity to excel in her sport.
At 12 years old, Lindsay was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, yet was able to recover and become one of the finest female swimmers in Division III history. The Collegiate Women’s Sports Awards will present the Honda Inspiration Award to her in New York City on June 25. Payne was selected by the Honda Inspiration Award Committee from nominations submitted by NCAA-member schools in all three divisions. She is also a nominee for the Division III Female Athlete of the Year, which will be announced next month.
For the longest time, Payne did not want to talk about her battle with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). It is quite likely that everyone who jumped into the pool to race Lindsay Payne in her four competitive seasons at Williams had no idea that Lindsay had spent very little time in the pool before arriving at Williams due to ALL. Lindsay was diagnosed with ALL the summer she was 12.
Payne not only overcame ALL, she went on to win seven individual NCAA titles in Division III, broke three NCAA Division III records this year (two of her own and beat the previous record holder for a third), was named Swimmer of the Meet at the NCAA Division III Championships for the second year in a row and has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials for a second time (first being in 2004) in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. In her four years at Williams Payne lowered her time in the 100 breaststroke by 7.72 seconds (from 1:08.26 to 1:00.54) and by 15.88 seconds in the 200 (from 2:28.71 to 2:12.83).
Payne never used her overcoming ALL as a badge of honor or an excuse, but it did change her life and now as the 2005-06 Honda Inspiration Award winner she would like to use this opportunity to inspire other kids with cancer to continue their fight and to encourage others to donate to fund research.
"I feel honored to receive this award and want to thank all of my coaches, especially Steve Kuster, all my teammates, and Williams College for helping me have such a wonderful collegiate swimming career," said Payne. "I accept this award in honor of all those children who have battled with cancer, especially those who never had the chance to follow their dreams like I did. Those who fought hard and lost the battle are precious lives that without a doubt would have brought something irreplaceable to this world. They might have been national champions, accomplished musicians, or brilliant artists. For those children and adolescents who are currently battling this awful disease, I hope my story is a message of hope and will help them and their families to hold on to their dreams. I hope my receiving this award raises awareness of childhood cancer and makes people realize that the number one disease killer of children is an important issue that needs more attention and funding for research."
"What Lindsay has accomplished in her time swimming at Williams has been inspiration for all of us," said Eph head coach Steve Kuster. "Given what she has overcome in her life to get to this point is beyond inspirational, it is incredible. This is a great honor for her and this program. We are proud of Lindsay and all that she has accomplished."
Around the time she was four years old Lindsay Payne was taught to swim at the Lawrence (N.Y.) Beach Club by Carl Samuelson, then the head swimming coach for men and women at Williams College. When Samuelson saw Lindsay compete in a Saturday youth race at age 11, he said to Dick and Mary Payne, "I think you might have something special here." Samuelson, as usual, was dead on with his assessment. What Samuelson and Lindsay's parents did not know then was just how special Lindsay was and the twists and turns there would be in the road that would lead them all to increasing revelations of Lindsay's strengths and talents.
The summer Lindsay was 12 she was living in Charlotte, N.C. and competing for the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club at the North Carolina state meet, but she was so exhausted at the end of the competition she could not even stand to cheer on her team during the final relay. Lindsay returned to the family summer home in Lawrence, N. Y. after the North Carolina state meet and a visit to the doctor was scheduled to see if maybe she had the flu or, at worst, mono.
Jerome Maisel needed just one hour to diagnose Lindsay with acute lymphocytic leukemia. An hour later she was in the hospital. Within 24 hours she was on chemotherapy. Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a progressive, malignant disease characterized by large numbers of immature white blood cells that resemble lymphoblasts. These cells can be found in the blood, the bone marrow, the lymph nodes, the spleen, and other organs.
The Paynes elected to keep Lindsay on Long Island and to have her treated at Long Island Jewish Hospital, at least for the first 30 days, even though she was due to begin seventh grade at Charlotte Country Day School. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments began immediately and there were many other procedures as well, including spinal taps that were extremely painful. "Lindsay never once cried and I'm thankful for that," said Mary Payne. "I don’t know if she was protecting me or her, but her eyes would sometimes well up with tears, but they would not flow."
Lindsay knew things were serious and she knew she needed a lot of medical help. "I was a little kid," she said. "I just did what they told me to do. It was hard, very hard, especially losing my hair and looking like a kid with cancer and all, but I was not going to let it get to me."
After the first 30 days of intensive therapies with ALL you must receive chemotherapy and radiation for two to three more years, treatments that are designed to knock the cancer out of you, but that also rob you of all of your strength and endurance. With ALL, once remission is achieved after 30 days of intense chemotherapy you are provided a protocol (map of treatments) that covers the next two to three years. Major treatments are done every three weeks. When the Paynes returned to Charlotte, Lindsay received treatments at the Pediatric Oncology Group at Bowman Gray in Winston-Salem.
Early on in the treatment when Mary was holding Lindsay during a particularly difficult day, Lindsay said, "You'll never know the dreams I had." Mary gathered herself and said, "I know it looks like this is all bad news right now and I promise you that at the end you will look back and it will all have been worth it."
Lindsay missed the first six weeks of classes at Charlotte Country Day, but kept up with her schoolwork at home. The school was incredibly supportive of Lindsay as was the community of Charlotte. Many families familiar with Lindsay's talents in the breaststroke had adopted a rally cry of “pull, Lindsay, pull.” In late fall when Lindsay was able to go to school, Charlotte Country Day allowed her to sleep during gym class, but realizing the importance of peer relationships, encouraged her to participate in team sports as much as her body could tolerate. Being involved with the soccer and basketball teams became very important to her, but she also grew to respect the limits her body would place on her and she would sometimes need to sit out a practice or two to rest up. This she did for both her seventh and eighth grade years. Competitive swimming was out of the question for grades seven and eight.
The August before her freshman year at Charlotte Country Day, Lindsay's protocol ended and she was able to finally return to the pool. She participated on the swimming team December through February and played soccer in the spring. Being out of the pool for so long was a serious competitive disadvantage, but Lindsay was glad to finally be back competing and especially glad to be a part of a swimming team again.
Her swimming throughout high school was limited to just the high school season, no age group or club swimming seasons were involved, no year-round training regimens — contrary to the development and success of almost every other successful U.S. collegiate swimmer.
For her sophomore through senior years in high school, Lindsay attended and graduated from St. Andrews School in Middletown, Del. St. Andrews requires each student to partake in an extracurricular activity each season so Lindsay joined the soccer team, the swimming team, and the crew team. One year the crew team qualified to compete in the world famous Henley Regatta, but was unable to go because the coach's wife was due to give birth. Her swimming career was good, but basically not distinguished.
Williams was always at the top of Lindsay's college list, though she did visit Harvard, Duke, Brown, Amherst and Middlebury. The Division I coaches were nice, but they made no promises about her being able to swim for them. Before Lindsay could be sure that Williams was the place for her she had to visit and meet Steve Kuster, who had replaced the retired Carl Samuelson. When Lindsay told her parents that Coach Kuster was, "Awesome," they knew she would be going to Williams.
Payne was a team captain her senior year for the Ephs and she was more of a quiet leader than a rah-rah leader. "Her leadership and enthusiasm for swimming and her ability to challenge herself every day in practice inspired her teammates to get the most out of their practice sessions as well," said Kuster.
With all the national records she has set, races she has won, and awards she has won, the only two awards she has in her room at home are the 400-relay trophy from the 2005 NCAA Championships and the second-place team trophy from 2003. Swimming on a team for Lindsay is all about everyone doing her personal best and how the team performs. Her home in Lawrence, N.Y. could very well be located somewhere between Humility Ave. and Well-Grounded Blvd.
In her last collegiate race Lindsay Payne turned in one of those "did I just see what I thought I saw" moments. Lindsay entered the water in fifth place on the anchor leg of the 400-freestyle relay. "I figured we had a chance to win the event even though Kenyon had a 1.43 second lead on us, but I did not expect Lindsay to make up the difference in just 50 yards," said Kuster. "With 50 yards to go and the lead I knew that no matter how much Lindsay was hurting and how hard she had to work, Lindsay would not give up the lead."
"Lindsay has only begun to scratch the surface of her talents," said Kuster. "All of the top Division I swimmers have had more time in the pool and weight room than she has. It would be something to see if she dedicated herself totally to the sport for a significant period of time, but I don't know if that's in her future plans."
While training in Bethesda, Md. for the U.S. Nationals (to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials), Lindsay spent 10 weeks working with the CureSearch National Childhood Foundation – working with kids from all over the country, talking about issues related to living with cancer, talking to Congressmen to raise money and an awareness for greater funding for cancer research.
After graduation Lindsay may enter the field of cancer research, working for a cancer foundation or enter law school.