More than 250 high school swimmers will crowd into the Jamerson Family YMCA tonight to honor one of their own in an unusual meet.
They’ll race in sprint events and take part in quirky relays, all while raising money and awareness for Jefferson Forest sophomore Cassidy Richardson, who is battling osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
Swimmers from nine area schools, all eight Seminole District squads and Appomattox, will take part in the event, dubbed the Hill City Sprint & Relay Invitational, which begins at 7 p.m. and is organized by Heritage High coach Greg Hofmann.
Richardson first was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 9. She has undergone numerous surgeries and treatments over the years.
She swam for Jefferson Forest last season because her cancer was in remission, competing in events like the 50 and 100 free.
But Richardson did not return to the team this winter, JF coach Marty Ponder said, because the cancer returned.
So tonight her friends and colleagues will swim for her. Teams participating in the event pay a small fee, Hofmann said. T-shirts will be for sale and raffles are planned as well. All money goes toward Richardson’s quest to overcome the disease.
Hofmann and Heritage assistant Beth Coleman came up with the idea for the meet; they wanted to raise awareness of Richardson’s condition and design an event that wasn’t too competitive.
So tonight’s meet will feature fun events, like a noodle relay, in which swimmers must use a foam noodle to reach the other end of the pool; a T-shirt exchange, in which swimmers wear a shirt while swimming one lap and then remove it and pass it along to their teammates; and a corkscrew relay, in which participants alternate between freestyle and backstroke to create a spinning motion while trying to reach the opposite end.
“We want it to be competitive; we want it to be fun and we want every swimmer to rally around each other, so it’s not my team against your team,” Hofmann said.
After coming up with the idea, Hofmann started asking local teams if they’d attend.
“To my surprise, every team responded with an emphatic, ‘Yes,’” he said.
Richardson and her parents, Kim and Kenny Richardson, plan to attend tonight, both Hofmann and Ponder said. They’ll see swimmers wearing pink, Cassidy’s favorite color, and watch as heat winners are awarded pink wrist bands on which the words “hope” and “strength” appear.
Strength is exactly what Richardson has exuded throughout her battle with cancer, Ponder noted.
“She’s such a positive girl,” the JF coach said. “With all the difficulties she’s faced in her life, she’s always ready with a smile. She’s a competitor. She worked hard last year and improved significantly.”
Hofmann has known Richardson since she was a kid swimming during the summers for the Lynchburg Aquatic League. Richardson swam for the Hill City Dolphins and Hofmann coached the Peakland Otters.
“We always admired her strength,” Hofmann said.
The Heritage coach also said the Jamerson YMCA agreed to stay open late for tonight’s event and had “donated time, space and workers to allow us to run this meet.”
Late this fall, Forest swimmers and coaches were making final preparations for the new season when they found out Richardson wouldn’t swim as a sophomore. Not long after that, Ponder said, they received news that Richardson’s cancer had returned.
So after Hofmann set up tonight’s meet, Ponder gathered his team together. This one, he told them, is for Cassidy.
“We’ll swim in bigger meets,” he said, “but this may be the most important one, because this one’s not about us. It’s not about swimming or winning anything. It’s about using our talents, what we do well, to give back to someone we love.”