The Ultimate Display of Teamwork

Hug-deal with loss

By Maddie Strasen and Chandler Brandes, Swimming World College Interns

The bond teammates have is something that can never be broken. Your team is there with you through the good and the bad, and experiences shared with your teammates are moments that will never be forgotten.

But nothing will ever compare to what the University of Vermont swimming and diving team experienced returning home from their annual training trip.


Photo Courtesy: Jen Cournoyer

On January 6th, our team sat tightly in Terminal 1 of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport before our flight to Baltimore, where we would be competing against University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) the following day. Like many college swimming and diving teams, we were returning from a week of rigorous training.

At around 1:15 p.m., social media and hushed conversations throughout the airport presented the news that violence had broken out in Terminal 2—a man who had checked a weapon loaded his gun and open fired in baggage claim, leaving five dead and six injured.

Although the news left us on edge, we assumed we were safe. Many of us began reaching out to family and friends to let them know we were uninvolved and our coach told us to keep him updated on our whereabouts. Since we had already been through security, we concluded that the coast was most likely clear.

What seemed like just minutes later, a group of TSA security guards and travelers came running down the terminal, panicked and frightened, shouting orders for everyone to get down.


Photo Courtesy: Wilfredo Le/AP (CNN)

Throwing bags over ourselves for protection, hiding under chairs, and getting as close to walls as possible, we were eventually able to army-crawl through a gate and run down to the tarmac. Unsure of what dangers were apparent, our coaches took roll call to make sure we were all together.

Thankfully, our entire 44-person group managed to flee the terminal and follow a sea of green UVM t-shirts to the same area. Amidst more turmoil and panic, the threat of even more danger returned to the table, sending us running across the tarmac and through an exit gate towards an airport construction site just beyond the runway. And to those who say swimmers can’t run, trust us—you’re wrong.


Photo Courtesy: MyNBC5 (WPTZ)

The unorganized evacuation process and aftermath, which was later described as a chaotic and intense scene, brought our team’s dedication, love, and support for one another to light. Because of our fearless coaching staff and and loving teammates, we were able to rely on each other and find solace through the support we gave each other.

No coach is ever trained to deal with a situation like this, and we owe a great deal of gratitude to the way our staff handled it. They kept all of us calm, which was not an easy task to do. They were forced into a situation no coach or leader could ever imagine, yet remained professional and composed. For that, we will forever be grateful.


Photo Courtesy: Maddie Strasen

We also owe a great deal of thanks to our entire athletic department who worked tirelessly to set up accommodations for us, even from 1500 miles away. The outreach of support from family, friends, loved ones, media personnel, and community members was greatly appreciated. Nothing compares, however, to the support given and received from each and every one of our teammates.

We were supposed to fly into Baltimore to race conference-rival UMBC on Saturday. Due to the circumstances, the meet was cancelled. Our athletic department was able to secure flights home for us that Sunday; the main concern was to ensure our safety and for us to stay together as one group.


Photo Courtesy: Emily Escobedo

Returning to the cold weather and snow in Vermont after a week spent in sunny Florida never felt so relieving. After bussing back from Newark after an early flight on Sunday from West Palm Beach, we were greeted by family, friends, university staff, and media personnel. One broken foot, one sprained ankle, a handful of concussions, and many bumps, bruises, and scrapes later, we were finally home.



Luckily, the majority of us were able to be reunited with our checked luggage the following day after the incident. Our carry-ons that were left in the terminal had to be processed before they could be returned to us, but the airport staff did a wonderful job keeping us updated and working quickly and efficiently to return our belongings. Each package that was shipped back to campus containing our personal items was a small little victory on the path back to normalcy.

We do not want our story to undermine the real tragedy that occurred in Terminal 2, nor can we let this be the guiding force for our future. As we come to terms with how one person can cause so much terror and pain directly and indirectly, we recognize that everyone will respond to the situation differently. No matter how people deal with this on a personal level, one thing will never change: our team will always be there for one another through thick and thin.


Photo Courtesy: Brian Jenkins-UVM Athletics

As a team, we quickly decided that this would not distract us from our individual and team goals as our conference championship meet is fast approaching. The strength our team showed is unparalleled and we proved to ourselves that we can overcome any obstacle in our way. We came out of this situation stronger, and we did it together.

The strength a group of individuals can create together is intangible by any one person or experience. We are honored to call these selfless, brave, and strong girls our teammates. But they’re more than just teammates.

They’re family, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.


Photo Courtesy: Brian Jenkins-UVM Athletics

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

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Judith Strasen
Judith Strasen
7 years ago

Maddie and all your team,

Thanks for this poignant article. May you all find solace and peace in the days to come. Stay strong. Be there for one another.

Judy Strasen, aka, proud Aunt of Maddie.

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