- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The first road trip for the women swimmers of Notre Dame this season was to Kingston, R.I., in the first weekend of December. The plane from South Bend landed in Providence in the middle of the night, and wouldn't you know it, the weather was terrible. The temperature was around freezing, and snow and rain and sleet and ice seemed to be coming out of the sky all at once. Wouldn't you know it. The darkness suddenly was filled with peril.
Six minivans were waiting to take the women and the school's men swimmers, who were traveling with them, to the Quality Inn, where the two teams would stay during the National Catholic Championships at the University of Rhode Island pool. Tim Welsh, who coaches both teams, had envisioned a little convoy heading to the motel. He would drive the final van himself and assist if problems developed with any of the vans in front of him. The weather suddenly brought chaos. One van left and then another and another. The idea of a convoy disappeared.
"Providence is one of those smaller airports," Welsh says. "When you get into your rental car, you have to wait for a little truck carrying someone to check your papers and send you on your way. The truck came to me last. By the time I was finished, everyone else was gone."
The drivers of the other vans were two assistant coaches, a manager and two team captains. Each driver seemed to follow a different course. The directions to the motel were a little sketchy. Take Route 1 to Route 138. Proceed to motel. Proceed? Where was the turn? Where was the motel? Windshield wipers fought an uneven battle against the elements.
Welsh became lost. He thought the motel would be directly off the exit, and when it wasn't, he doubled back, then doubled back again. After traveling another mile or so, he reached his destination by luck. His van was the first to arrive. All of the other vans had become lost.
"With any other sports team, I suppose it all would have been a big laugh, " Welsh says. "The Day Everyone Became Lost. With us...now...it became an emotional experience."
Where was everyone? More important, was everyone all right? This snow became the snow of Jan. 24, 1992, less than 11 months earlier. This night became that night, a few minutes past midnight, the times almost matching. These roads became the Indiana Toll Road—mile 74, to be precise, only three miles from the Notre Dame campus. What could happen? The picture of tragedy came back so easily. The skid. The overturned bus. The disorientation. The injuries. The deaths.
"It was all so much the same," Kristin Heath, a junior who swims the 400 individual medley, says. "Exactly the same. The weather. Not snow, not rain, just all this freezing stuff, Everyone was scared. The girl next to me, her fingernails were digging into my arm the entire trip. We all were just holding on to each other. That's all we could do."
As each van finally arrived at the motel, there was celebration. Tears and celebration. The final van was driven by senior freestyler Susan Bohdan. She somehow had wound up with all male passengers, and they had tried to help by making small jokes as each turn seemed to be a wrong turn. She had kept the rising panic inside her for the entire trip. Be strong. Be strong. She started to bawl when she saw the other women swimmers in the motel.
What could happen? These were people who knew, who really knew. They hugged each other in grand relief. Alive and together. Off on this season of challenges that no team should ever have to face. Off on the road again, fighting their fears and reaffirming the strength of the human spirit every day in even the smallest things they did. Peril or no peril, there was a swimming meet on the schedule. The women of Notre Dame were here.