When a high school meet features more than 250 swimmers, chances are there’s plenty at stake. Records might fall, or a title might be on the line, or swimmers might set their sights on a rival.
Friday’s meet at a packed Jamerson Family YMCA meant nothing. At the same time, it meant everything.
So when swimmers weren’t busy sprinting down and back in the lap pool, they laughed and joked a little more than normal.
No one, though, wore a bigger smile than 15-year-old Cassidy Richardson.
After all, the athletes were swimming for her. And that, the Jefferson Forest sophomore said, “makes me feel so special, that everybody cares about me.”
Dubbed the Hill City Sprint & Relay Invitational, Friday’s event was a fundraiser for Richardson, currently battling osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. She’s attempted to overcome the disease since age 9.
Richardson swam with JF’s team last year as a freshman when her cancer was in remission. It has since returned, so Greg Hofmann, Heritage High’s swim coach, organized Friday’s meet to raise money for Richardson.
Hofmann wasn’t sure late Friday evening how much money had been raised. But, he said, “It exceeded my expectations.”
People stopped by the YMCA to donate money. Some teams raised money on their own this week and included it in their entry fees.
“I think it’s really cool that everyone cares so much,” Richardson said.
While swimmers competed to honor her, Richardson roamed the Y with her best friend, Makinley Andrews. Occasionally, the pair checked in on their swimming friends.
“Everyone comes together as one when stuff like this happens,” said Andrews, who attends Liberty Christian Academy. “Everyone’s really united.”
Andrews has noticed a few qualities about Richardson the last few years. Talk to other people who know Richardson and you’ll hear a similar story.
“She’s really sweet and genuine and I say courageous,” Andrews said, “because she’s overcome so much, and she doesn’t lose hope.”
Teams came from Amherst, Brookville, E.C. Glass, Heritage, Liberty High, LCA, Jefferson Forest, Rustburg, Appomattox and New Covenant. Some of them grew up competing against Richardson in the Lynchburg Aquatic League’s summer series.
Hank Reed is a Brookville assistant who in the summer coaches the Hill City Dolphins, the team Richardson grew up swimming for.
“She’s always so positive,” Reed said.
Richardson wore a pink T-shirt Friday night with the words “we fight together” typed across the front. And that’s what you get with Richardson, Reed said — someone who is a competitor, a fighter, someone who always seems to find a way to rise to the challenge.
Before she was diagnosed with cancer at age 9, and even after the diagnosis, Reed said, Richardson always had a knack for finishing strong. The bigger the meet, the better she’d perform.
Sometimes, Reed said, “she was seeded fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth, and she’d end up winning those events, coming out of nowhere. … She’s really an inspiration to everybody.”
Richardson, who undergoes treatments at Johns Hopkins Hospital, isn’t swimming this season. But she plans to resume her swimming career with Hill City in the summer and then rejoin JF’s club as a junior.
Jefferson Forest won the combined event, holding off Brookville and E.C. Glass. But there were no real winners or losers Friday night, just people coming together to offer assistance to someone they care about.
So as she walked around the Y, a smile inevitably lit up Richardson’s face. And there was the laugh, the one people seem to always mention when asked about Richardson. They remark about how her laugh is contagious, how she’s an inspiration, how she always maintains a positive outlook.
“I try to mostly focus on the positive things,” Richardson said, “because I feel like if I were to focus on the negative that it would make me sad, and then I’d just not want to do anything.
“But I surround myself with my friends and going to school and doing fun activities. It just brightens my mood and makes me happy.”
Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527.