Colleen Driscoll: A Leader to Lean On

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Photo Courtesy: Hannah Dahlin

By Maddie Strasen, Swimming World College Intern

Colleen Driscoll propelled herself to the starting blocks, leaned her crutches behind the timers and hopped up on the blocks, awaiting the horn. Making her turns on one foot, there was no way she would contend for victories or personal best times, and she knew it. That, however, is not what this was about in her final meet of the season – conference championships.

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Photo Courtesy: Hannah Dahlin

A true test of character can be the ability to follow one’s own advice. At the start of the year, one of my closest friends and teammates on both my club and college swimming teams gave me a list of pointers for the upcoming season, encouraging me to take advantage of the opportunities the sport has to offer and to throw myself into everything I do.

That friend and teammate is Driscoll, a University of Vermont sophomore who constantly inspires me with her ability to uphold her morals and follow her own advice, even in the toughest of times.

Our team was forced, in early January, to flee from the Fort Lauderdale Airport as an armed gunman was apprehended after killing five people. We had been scheduled to fly from our training trip in South Florida to a dual meet in Maryland, but wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the course of running, getting pushed and shoved and trying to move as quickly as possible, Colleen injured her foot. She was forced to keep running and moving quickly for more than two miles alongside panicked teammates and civilians. Fighting through the pain but still unsure of the severity of the injury after we were safely bused away from the airport, Colleen was taken to a hospital where she received the news: she had suffered multiple breaks to the bones in her foot.

Teammate Kelly Lennon, a junior who accompanied Colleen to hospital that day, remembers Colleen’s ability to stay strong. “Watching Colleen before we got in the ambulance and at the hospital, you would’ve never guessed that her foot was broken in three different places,” Lennon stated. “I just remember looking at her in the hospital and thinking ‘I would have been a mess if I were in her spot,’ and how much of a mess I already was without a broken foot.”

She admits that Colleen was the one helping her stay strong through the stressful events of that day. “She was squeezing my hand, which is a running joke we have usually reserved for coaches mid meet speeches, to offset the pain of doctors poking at her ‘very broken’ foot, but little did she know that she was the one giving me strength at that moment.”

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Photo Courtesy: Kelly Lennon

How she handled the entirety of the situation was nothing short of courageous. Her outlook on the rest of the season and her ability to take action was unbelievably inspiring.

Unable to return to any training right away, Colleen was able to spend a few days at home in Tampa, but quickly returned to Vermont for the spring semester and the final push of training before our conference meet. Colleen was told her season was over by doctors and her peers. Our trainers and coaches may have felt hesitant to let her train based on the severity of her injury. However, Colleen refused to believe that her hard work wasn’t going to pay off.

Since I met Colleen in 2014, she has always been the hardest worker in the pool. I used to be terrified of her because, honestly, she probably could have lapped me in warm up (she still does sometimes). A true leader by example, you will never catch Colleen putting partial effort into anything. She has an “all-in” attitude all the time.

In what seemed like just a few days, Colleen was back in the weight room with the team, doing everything she could to maintain her strength. She was back in the pool, using a pull buoy and doing one-legged turns.

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Photo Courtesy: Jennifer Cournoyer

It’s difficult to judge what any singular person would do in Colleen’s situation. We’d like to tell ourselves that we would continue to work hard and strive toward our goals. Considering the extent of the injury, however, many of us would probably turn off our alarm clocks, pull the covers over our heads and tell ourselves that there’s always next season—that there’s nothing more to be done.

Colleen refused to dim the spark in her eyes in the face of adversity. Sticking with training could not have been easy. Watching the rest of the team prepare for conferences just how she planned to prepare couldn’t have been anything but devastating. Eventually, the time came for conference championships and, to the surprise of everyone, Colleen was entered in the maximum number of individual events.

Colleen inspired an entire natatorium full of people that weekend. Approaching every event on her crutches and with the confidence to race her heart out was incredibly emotional to watch. Not expecting personal bests, not expecting close races, not expecting recognition. Purely for the thrill of racing and, more importantly, her love for the sport. She was able to leave every race—after picking up her crutches—knowing that she left everything she had in the pool.

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Photo Courtesy: Hannah Dahlin

She might have needed crutches to walk, but Colleen was truly our team’s crutch throughout the entire season. Her hard work both before and after her injury encourages teammates to stretch themselves to their fullest potential. She shows us not to take for granted any time spent training, racing, or working to improve oneself. She reminds us that the sport is about hard work, dedication and loving what you do.

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Photo Courtesy: Katie Arend

The words here do not give Colleen’s triumph enough justice. I don’t think any of us can even begin to imagine the frustration Colleen experienced and still experiences on a daily basis. However, her ability to stay strong through hardship gives us all some perspective on what this sport is all about.

Colleen—Thank you for inspiring us. Thank you for reminding us what’s important in our sport and in our lives. You are the embodiment of hard work, dedication, strength and passion. You show us that we can all work a little harder and push a little farther.

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Photo Courtesy: Hannah Dahlin

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

2 comments

  1. Kelly Lennon

    @AmericaEast more examples of unreal student athletes right here ^^