Women Swimmin’…Women Livin’

Swimming with Diane in my heart

Swimmers “do” Women Swimmin’ for numerous reasons:  mine was to swim in memory of Diane Sherrer, who spent her last days on earth at HospiCare of Ithaca, and passed away two years ago.  Diane was my mentor and friend.  She would have loved to see the wondrous sight this morning:  hundreds of women participating in a life-affirming athletic activity, supported by their loved ones in kayaks and on shore. 

This was not only a swim for Diane, but as it turned out—one for me too.  I have recently lost my job due to budget cuts, and also been unsuccessful gaining another teaching position.  I needed a good reason to get out of bed this morning, and Women Swimmin’ was a good one.  I put on my swimsuit, pulled on a pair of ESG windpants, and with a Sharpie marker, inscribed “Diane” on my left hand and “Sherrer” on my right.  With each stroke, I would remember my friend. 

I arrived at the Ithaca Yacht Club with my family-they would see me onto the boat, and then Victoria had to leave for work.  Scott and Austin would be there when I arrived back to shore from my swim. 

I wasn’t really scared facing the distance of the swim.  I have been training for triathlons, and I knew that at our leisurely pace (and wearing a wetsuit) I would be able to do it.  There was also comfort in knowing that I wouldn’t be alone.  I would be just one of 300 women swimming across the lake this morning! 

The "Nauti-Gals"

My podmates and I gathered, and eventually boarded the Columbia to traverse to the other side of the lake.  I was trying to keep a stiff upper lip.  I was dealing with my own despair about my life’s circumstances as well as holding Diane’s memory especially close to my heart today.  As I looked around at all the women on the boat, I knew every single one had their own story.   I recalled how valiantly Diane fought to live; I knew she would not approve of the defeated attitude I have been displaying lately with my unemployment struggles.  I thought, “Diane would not be pleased with how I have been acting.  I owe it to her memory to face MY challenges with the same bravery she did.”

Our pod was the last one to board the boat; first one to enter the water.  A few of my podmates jumped, and then it was my turn.  I wondered if my goggles would stay atop my head when I jumped in-they did.  I sculled out of the way so that the next person could enter the water.  I spotted other red swim caps from my pod, and started swimming towards the orange triangular buoys which created a wide lane for us to aim for.  One big red balloon attached to the dock at the Yacht Club gave us a little “finish line” pinpoint.  What a small red dot! 

The Columbia, transporting us to the East shore of Cayuga Lake

At first, I swam a slow tempo, thinking our pod would try to stick together as a whole.  Within our pod we had quite a variety of swim tempo abilities, as revealed when we had a practice swim together a couple of weeks ago.  I saw that two of my friends were up ahead swimming at a more brisk speed—that’s where I wanted to be, so I informed the kayaker near me and sped ahead to catch up.  Soon enough, I was alongside them, and they welcomed me.  Laurie was wearing little flipper fins, and Nancy used no assistance—not even a wetsuit.  When I was close by Laurie, I could see her yellow flippers –they reminded me of ducky feet!   Nancy flanked me on the other side, giving encouraging words every once in a while.  Occasionally the three of us would catch our breath and shout back over the water, “Go Nauti-Gals! (our team name)  Go RED!” (our cap color)

It was very strange—as I sighted in the water for the fins, I kept seeing a pair of ladies legs off to the left side.  I would raise my head to see who it was; but no one was there.  The logical side of my mind says that it was probably a shadow produced from wearing a new pair of goggles with a different contour on the peripheral part of my vision.  The more spiritual side of me thinks of it as Diane being close to me (spurring me on as she would have, “Get going! Kick harder!  Pop an ovary!”).

As we continued, that red speck of a balloon appeared larger and larger, and we could see the dock we were aiming for, and see the crowd waiting for us on shore. 

I had the thought, “I may not be a teacher anymore, but right now I am a SWIMMER.  I am a WIFE to Scott, I am a MOTHER to Victoria and Austin…and that is enough.  It is ok.”

I approached the dock with a newfound happiness.  I was leaving some of my low self-esteem in the water, and emerging with a little smidgen of peace.  Volunteers welcomed me onto the dock with a hug, congratulations, and offered a blanket.  No thanks, in my wetsuit, I was plenty warm—the water was 75 degrees this morning.  My eyes immediately began searching for my boys on the shore. A few photos with Laurie and Nancy, and then I was heading into the arms of my family. My mother and father in-law had come to share the moment too!  I apologized each time I hugged anyone, because I knew it would leave them a little damp! 

Laurie (holding her yellow duckie flippers), Speedster Nancy and me

I found myself smiling (for the first time in days).  I turned my attention to the dock, waiting for more teammates to arrive.  Each time they did, it was a time to shout out a “woo hoo!” and hug them as they joined the growing crowd on the shore. 

The last of our podmates were Tricia and Robin—another Story of Victory.  Robin had her own life challenges, and she was super determined to prove to naysayers (and herself!) that she COULD make it across the lake.  Tricia was a steadfast companion, and stuck with Robin all through the journey.  When I saw the two of them climb up onto the dock, I smiled at the sight:  this swim just created another life-affirming experience for a woman. 

Tricia and Robin: Victorious!


It is amazing to me that a fund-raising event to support a service that assists people facing life-ending illnesses helps so many people find strength and affirms the life that we are living now. 

What was intended to be a swim to honor the life of my friend, morphed into a swim that concurrently helped me rediscover the value of my life, complete with all its twists and turns, disappointments and surprises.  My daughter Victoria noted later in the day,

A new person arrived on the other shore

“Mommy, you came out of the water a new person!”   I am hoping to swim again next year—to support HospiCare, who took such sweet care of my friend Diane, and perhaps next year I can also celebrate it as an anniversary of me rediscovering my intrinsic value. 

Thank you to so much to all of you who supported HospiCare by donating and encouraging me on my swim.  I appreciate you!!

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4 Responses to Women Swimmin’…Women Livin’

  1. Sue Peters says:

    Laura – this is absolutely beautiful! Your words brought tears to my eyes. You are an amazing and strong person and WILL prevail no matter what challenges life throws at you. I have challenged myself many times over the years with Tricia, but this was a new one to me too. I thoroughly enjoyed the sisterhood of the POD and am impressed witb the abilities of all of us. When I run a race, or swim, or whatever the task is, I too think of all the people I am out there for… the ones in ill-health, or have lost the battle. I feel they give me the strength to continue. I am thankful everyday that I am well and have more time with my family. Take care and I’m sure I’ll be seing you on the trails/roadways and at many races to come! : ) – Sue Peters

  2. Dave Broad says:

    Born again through baptism. 🙂

  3. Rochelle says:

    This is so touching–you made me cry! I noticed that at first there seemed a bit of a cloud over your usually joyful smile, but that seemed to lift at then end. And you shared how that happened! The world would be a sadder place if you lost your smile!! Guess it was simply misplaced, and is now back where it belongs. You are a strong, talented, and positive person, and all the beautiful things and people in your life surround you to get through the bad patches. You’ll come out fine in the end because of the person you are! How blessed are those of us so fortunate to know you and have you in our lives!
    Thanks for the reminder that there is more joy in life than sorrow, and the latter makes the former so precious!! :=)

  4. veslabeachgirl (louise adie) says:

    Your story was priceless and inspiring. Diane would have been SO proud of you and all the swimmers each year in Women Swimmin’. She worked tirelessly to bring positive attention to those athletes in our community that they might have an influence on the next generation. I always thought of her as a Goddess, she will always be. Thank you for swimming in her honor, your words are so strong and comforting.

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