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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Jumbos Give Back, Part 3: Student-athletes come together to help Puerto Rico

Members of Tufts' men's lacrosse, football and women's swimming teams celebrate after their swimathon to support hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

Editor’s note: This is the final part of a three-part story highlighting Tufts athletic teams’ contributions to their community. Part 1 was published Nov. 19 and Part 2 was published Nov. 28.

After the devastating effects of Hurricanes Maria and Irma in August and September 2017, the Tufts swimming and diving teams hosted a swimathon to fundraise for relief efforts after visiting Puerto Rico for winter training the past 12 years. The Jumbos teamed up with Direct Relief, a nonprofit humanitarian group. 

Though winter training includes some of the swimmers’ most grueling college workouts, the trip to Puerto Rico and accompanying camaraderie make it worth it. Jessica Fan, a senior on the team, reminisced on the morning all-you-can-eat buffet after a practice that started before dawn, the beach volleyball games in between practices and teammates cooking pizza with a tortilla crust at night. After Puerto Rico and its people were devastated by hurricanes, the team felt a responsibility to help the cause.

“[The teams] got to know the people at the hotel really well, and our bus drivers — we loved our bus drivers,” Fan said. “And just thinking about how different [Puerto Ricans'] lives must be now, and their families must be. One year after there was still so much enthusiasm still, and you can see that through the donations. It was like a 'We need to act, and we can't do much but here's something we can do.'”

Last year, the team raised over $10,000 to help relief efforts for Puerto Rico and its neighboring Caribbean islands. A year on and Puerto Rico still feels the catastrophic effects of the hurricanes; many communities and homes still lack basic amenities, such as electricity and clean water, according to the Associated Press. 

The teams decided to run another swimathon, this time in partnership with Taller Salud, a women's nonprofit humanitarian group. 

“I researched other organizations that still actively played a role in helping Puerto Rico and made a list of five options based on how much they were doing, their sustainability and their mission,” Fan said. “I wanted other teams to have a personal connection to it, so I asked [the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representatives] to help me and vote for one by a certain day."

Fan worked closely with the SAAC to ensure all of Tufts' varsity teams got the word. Madeline Lee, a senior, said that the team played the most integral role in the organized effort.

"Even though [the] SAAC and the whole Athletics department have played their part, the swimming and diving team is the one that's on deck, timing it, promoting it and volunteering our own time," Lee said.

The teams have raised $18,136 as of Nov. 26. Their initial goal was to raise $15,000. Fan said that every varsity team participated in the swimathon, and that only $4,000 was raised by the swimming and diving teams.

"[The event] really did start with a couple of teammates that said 'Hey, this is something really important happening in the world and something that feels connected to our team, so let's bring some awareness to it,'” Lee said.

Lee added that the event emphasized the privilege of Tufts' student-athletes.

“Our team got to go to Puerto Rico for a training trip,” Lee said. “A lot of that comes from alumni funding. Let's not let that go unnoticed. How lucky we are to have that."

Since Hamilton Pool only has six 25-yard lanes, a traditional swimathon was not feasible. So the swimming team decided to put other teams into groups with 20-minute slots of swimming, with each swimmer trying to record as many laps as possible.

“Football came in and was the first team,” Fan said. “They swam with the women's team and were so into it. Just seeing that was like 'Ok, this is a success.' Seeing them in our environment was so satisfying.”

The teams appreciated the opportunity to swim without competing, Fan said.

“Usually the team comes together only for practices and meets,” Fan said. “But this time we could get into the pool without worrying about times, that stuff wasn't remotely in our heads. Not many teams get to say they had this idea that will hopefully be an annual event.”

After posting 747 laps last year, Tufts athletes swam 1,470 this year. Fan was taken aback by their success.

“I think it's my greatest accomplishment at Tufts — just getting the whole Athletics department together for a single cause and beating our goal by so much more than what could have ever imagined,” Fan said. “It’s mind-blowing.”