April 24, 2013
By Katie Dodge, ECU Media Relations Student Assistant
Great American journalist Heywood Broun once said that sports do not build character, but reveal it.
The community service activities performed by the East Carolina swimming and diving team during the 2012-2013 school year did more than just reveal the character of the individual athletes and the team as a whole. The projects allowed teammates to open up to each other and bond on a completely new level, while also increasing their presence in the Greenville community.
For years the team has worked with Special Olympics, the world's largest non-profit sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics Club in Greenville is given the opportunity to practice with the Pirates, learning techniques and receiving coaching tips from the student-athletes.
Junior Hyatt Gaston, a distance swimmer and captain, recalls helping a young boy go from doing just hand turns to a full flip turn - and a perfect one at that. He described the experience as an "immediate gratification".
"Seeing the smiles on the faces of these Special Olympians reminds me that the sport is more about having fun and not all about swimming 10,000 yards a practice," Gaston said.
"When you're practicing with the team, you are employing your own knowledge to your own performance, but when you are working with Special Olympics, a collaboration of knowledge and past experiences becomes apparent and we each share our own skills and techniques. This allows us to get to know each other better and to grow closer together."
The Pirates also get involved with Relay for Life every year. This is an event dedicated to raising money and awareness to help save lives affected by cancer. It is a global phenomenon that takes place overnight and attracts millions of participants and survivors who form teams and take part in the walk.
Participation was not mandatory, but the whole team took part and on the night of the event, each member of the squad had different time slots to walk and work a booth.
The Pirates believe that by participating in Relay for Life, they got to know each other better by sharing their various experiences with cancer.
"When you learn these kinds of things about your teammates, it helps you to open up about similar experiences and brings us closer together as a team," sophomore Danielle Morrin said. "It closes the gap between knowing someone and not knowing someone."
The team's involvement in Relay for Life was through SAAC - the Student Athletic Academic Committee - but they were able to dictate how involved they were going to be. They didn't have to walk or fundraise as much as they did, but they wanted to.
The Pirates used the slogan `cancer affects everyone' and were driven by the idea that they needed to do their part to help find a cure and were focused on generating a lot of money. A big fundraiser is planned for the fall.
Another activity the team participates in annually is Swim Across America. According to its website, this organization is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention, and treatment through swimming-related events.
ECU take receive pledges from donors for every yard that they swim. Individual athletes also give their own money, as well as receive donations from their families and friends.
To help supplement the money they raised on their own, the Pirates also held charity events throughout the Greenville community.
The Sweet Frog frozen yogurt shop hosted one fundraiser, during which 20 percent of every purchase was donated to SAA. This was the first year they really got involved and are hoping to hold more events in the future.
"Almost every one of us has someone we know that has been affected by cancer," junior Amit Bechar said. "It is very important to our team to be involved with these activities in our community."
The Pirates have gotten much more involved in community service this year than in previous years. They believe that their participation in these projects outside of practice, helps to bring the team closer together.
During the season, the team trains 20 hours per week consisting of five afternoons, two mornings along with a Saturday morning workout. Postseason hours are reduced to eight per week and all swimmers do the same kind of conditioning.
"There are no off days or light walk-throughs," Associate Head Coach Matthew Jabs stated. "It just isn't how our sport works."
The limited practice time in the postseason frees up plenty of time for the Pirates to make gains in the weight room and take big steps forward into next season, and also allows then more time to focus on their service projects.
"Head Assistant Coach Kate Gordon has done a great job organizing these projects," Jabs explained. "Each year it seems like the enthusiasm and efforts of our kids gets better and that we're able to contribute more and more."