Story Written By Notre Dame Media Relations Student Worker Craig Chval
Sept. 28, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – At 9 o’clock on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 24, most Notre Dame students could be found sleeping, alarms perhaps set to blare moments before the football team faced Pittsburgh at noon.
Yet, at that moment the women’s swimming and diving team was preparing for a youth clinic at the Rolfs Aquatic Center. Dedicating their time until 4 p.m., the swimmers volunteered to instruct nearly 100 local participants in a Coaches vs. Cancer event to raise funds for the American Cancer Society and the local RiverBend Cancer Services.
“I think we’re all just excited to raise money for cancer research, and it’s a pretty easy way to make a difference,” says junior co-captain Lauren Scott. “I think we’re qualified because we even correct our own strokes in practice, and what we work on in drills is a lot of what we go over with the kids.”
Head women’s swimming and diving coach Brian Barnes envisioned and helmed the clinic, with a specific emphasis on raising funds to donate to cancer research institutions.
But for Barnes, the fundraising camp had a deeper resonance than just his desire to benefit the community.
“It’s a bit personal — what I’ve gone through in the last year. My wife is dealing with melanoma, so through navigating this thing, we realized we’re pretty lucky with the great benefits that are associated with the University of Notre Dame,” says Barnes. “We realized that there are so many people that do not — who have to navigate this whole experience without the things that we are lucky to have. And we got to talking about it, and I thought an easy way to raise money for the community would be to do it through the sport and through a camp or a clinic setting. And as a result we’ve got a pretty big turnout.”
Although Coaches vs. Cancer primarily works through basketball programs in its fight against cancer, Barnes worked with the organization through the American Cancer Society, organizing the first fundraising clinic of its kind. To make a local impact, he also chose to donate to RiverBend Cancer Services, which serves St. Joseph’s County.
Through online promotion and offering free clinics over the summer, Barnes tried to spread the word to meet his goal of 50 participants. In the end, 94 swimmers attended the event.
“We had a huge turnout. I think we had 94 in the water, and we had 30 people helping on deck,” recalls Barnes. “The clinic was a good combination of skill instruction and education in addition to being a lot of fun. We had a great weekend.”
Participants of the clinic paid a $50 base donation, but some paid more or donated without attending. Raising more than $5,000 in the one-day event, Barnes found success that exceeded his expectations. However, he was not surprised by the generosity and support around him, nor by the service of his athletes, who exerted the effort to make the camp possible.
“This is obviously something that hits really close to home for the Barnes family, and our team was affected by it,” says junior Kim Holden. “So we’re just really glad to be here to support Brian’s wife, who’s been so strong through her whole ordeal, and we send our thoughts to the Barnes family and everyone else who’s a cancer survivor.”
Before the clinic, Barnes envisioned a recurring event that could expand over time. Afterwards, though, the success of the first camp created complications for any growth.
“I don’t think we could fit any more bodies in this pool. We’re just going to have to get creative on how we can be at capacity and raise more money,” says Barnes. “So looking ahead, we have a couple of ideas just talking it over with people who are working really close to the benefit.”
Despite capacity issues, Barnes would be the first one to say the problem of too many participants is a good one to work through. If the volunteers continue to come out as strong as they have, it’s unlikely that Barnes will not find a way to make the benefit thrive.
That he may fail to find support for his cause, though, seems even more improbable.
“It’s amazing what you learn — once people found out that I’m doing something like this, they pitch in. I had people maybe three times one week just ask for a stack of brochures to distribute,” says Barnes. “It means a lot to me personally. I think there are some people who are willing to volunteer and make donations because of maybe what my wife and I and my family have been through personally. However, at the same time I think it’s really more of a reflection on the swimming community.”
The success of the first clinic seems to affirm that as long as he has a pool and a swim team at Notre Dame, Barnes will find support for any of his future benefits.
“It’s more of a reflection on Notre Dame than just our women’s swimming and diving team,” remarks Barnes. “When you decide to come to Notre Dame, you decide to do service. You really do. It’s a way of life around here, and that’s why this is the best university in the world — because of their mission to give. And I’m happy to encourage my team to do their part, but it’s not hard — it’s really not hard because it’s a way of life around here.”
Donations are still being accepted. Interested donors can contact Dawn Mays at (574) 631-8090 at the University of Notre Dame, C113 Joyce Center, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Please make checks payable to RiverBend Cancer Services or the American Cancer Society.