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Members of the Northbridge, Grafton, Nipmuc swimming co-op at girls states are, l-r, Alex Lindgren 9th grade of Northbridge, Shannon Dowd 11th grade of Nipmuc, Kelsey Rudert 12th grade and captain of Grafton, Taylahna Rowland 9th grade of Nipmuc, Annemarie Haas 10th grade of Northbridge and Carly Thibodeau 11th grade of Nipmuc. Contributed photo



Nipmuc Swimmers Take Unlikely Path to States
2014-2015 was an incredible season for the Northbridge, Grafton, Nipmuc swimming co-op. It was incredible not just because the team had six athletes compete at the state meet and broke program records in two relays. It was not just because Northbridge freshman Alex Lindgren became the first girl to earn a spot on the podium at states with an eighth place finish or that the state contingent included representation from all three schools.
This season was special because of how close they were to not having it at all.
Head coach Denise Foster found out last May that the program would need to be entirely self-funded in order to put a team in the pool this winter. They had to raise $9,000 to cover costs. After a car wash, a fund raising drive, and private donations they were still $2,500 short, so Foster started a GoFundMe page.
"It was a tough situation because of how hard we had to work just to save the team, but it did help bring the kids together," she said. "This year ended up being one of the tightest knit teams we've ever had and the fundraising is a big part of the reason why."
The problem was donations were only trickling in and a November 1st deadline loomed. Then, fate intervened in more ways than one.
"I saved a life at the Whitinsville Community Center pool," Foster said. "A man went into cardiac arrest and if it wasn't for the CPR given to him then and there he would not have made it. I was only doing my job, God put me there on the right day."
A friend of Foster's wrote about her act of heroism and it sparked an influx of donations from members of the community. Within two days the GoFundMe page went from $150 to more than $3,000 raised. The season was officially saved.
And what a season it ended up being. Lindgren placed eighth at states in the 100 yard breaststroke. The medley relay team, made up of Lindgren, Nipmuc's Taylahna Rowland and Carly Thibodeau and Grafton's Kelsey Rudert, smashed their own school record by three seconds. Rowland, Thibodeau, Rudert, and Nipmuc junior Shannon Dowd broke the program record for the freestyle relay.
But the success went beyond the record setting performances. Foster's oldest son barely missed out on a spot at states but was able to swim in his senior year and be on the same team as his younger brother, a freshman. Twenty-three athletes, including six seniors, were able to compete and be part of the team. "We saw the light at the end of the tunnel and to see these kids excel and flourish was amazing," Foster said.
Foster earned Employee of the Year honors at the community center where she coaches swimmers of all ages. Her passion for swimming runs deeper than any pool. Get her voicemail and it'll say she's "in the pool." That passion was shared by her athletes as they saved their season and then made it count in every sense of the phrase.
"It can be difficult to have three schools come together as one team" she said. "You start just hanging around your friends that you know and that you are comfortable with. But this year was one of the best and by the end, we were together as a family of 23."




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