Cancer Can’t Counter Cailin Cannella

Photo Courtesy: Charlie Kaijo

By Maddie Strasen, Swimming World college intern

Every athlete experiences setbacks at one time or another, whether they are caused by injury, illness, burnout or any number of factors. Cailin Cannella is no exception, but the Florida teenager has vowed not to let what some would consider major setbacks hinder her career.

Cannella, who swims under Coach Bill Shaffer at Academy Aquatic Club and attends Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa, rehabbed what was originally thought to be a meniscus tear. After treatment and rest, her pain continued and further testing ensued, bringing more unfortunate news. On her 13th birthday, Cannella was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects Cannella above her right knee.

Cancer often leaves its victims with many questions about what actions to take and how it will affect their future, but Cannella had even more than these typical questions on her mind. How this journey would affect her swimming career was her No. 1 priority.

Cannella has recently finished her first round of chemotherapy, begun her second round, and will continue these belligerent treatments throughout the remainder of the year. She will eventually undergo surgery that will include a full knee replacement— a tough blow for any swimmer, but even more terrifying for a breaststroker. However, Cannella has not let treatment keep her out of the water just yet.

“Cailin was out here swimming and we had a hurricane approaching,” Coach Shaffer says. “So anybody that starts complaining I tell them you have to be ‘Cailin strong’. That means you want to be in the water so bad, you’ll do it during a hurricane and after chemo.”

I personally remember racing against Cannella at districts in the 100 breaststroke, where she finished third— not at all far behind me despite a six-year age difference. I knew Cannella was going to be faster than I’d ever be. Her already impressive times, will to race and overall promising potential is accompanied by her inspiring positivity and determination.

“[The osteosarcoma] makes me want to work that much harder,” Cannella says, “I’m determined to swim again and be back to where I was before.”


Photo Courtesy: Charlie Kaijo

Her family, friends, coaches, team and community have shown a tremendous amount of support for Cannella, setting up a GoFundMe page supported by Ethan’s Angels, painting their nails yellow (the color that represents sarcoma/bone cancer) and continuing to surprise her with balloons, flowers, gifts and visits at the hospital.

“Her family, friends and swim family are keeping her strong,” Lisa Cannella, Cailin’s mother, writes in thanking everyone for their boundless support.

Colleen Driscoll, a 2015 graduate of Academy of the Holy Names, paints her nails yellow before each of her collegiate meets and explains the everlasting bond each teammate and classmate feels with Cannella, even if they do not know her personally.

“I’ve never met Cailin, but when my brother told me her story I felt an immediate connection,” Driscoll explains. “Academy is such a small, close-knit community and it really is a sisterhood. Even after you graduate, you are still a part of that sisterhood and you care about your Academy sisters no matter what. Even now, Cailin is always in my thoughts and prayers.”

Cailin’s drive and strength motivates those who hear and are inspired by her story.

“Cailin is my inspiration,” says Driscoll, who swims for the University of Vermont. “When things get tough, I think of her and write ‘Cailin Strong’ on my hand at meets. Even though I am hundreds of miles away…I consider her a sister, an inspiration and the strongest person I know.”

Cannella has impacted her community by simply being herself. Her true desire and love for the sport of swimming makes us all a little more grateful and feel a little more inspired.

Thank you, Cailin, for showing us true passion and perseverance. The swimming community is with you every step—and stroke—of the way.

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Vicki Dixon
Vicki Dixon
7 years ago

Fortunately and unfortunately this drive, determination and courage run deep in Cailin’s DNA, it appears this particular Cancer does as well. What an awesome story about an amazing young lady. Cailin Strong, can’t stop this gene pool, That’s a fact.

7 years ago

Cailin is my bestie definitely! Stay strong!

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