A Masters Swimmer’s Generosity Raises Record Funds for UVAC’s Learn-to-Swim Program
Since 2019, UVAC’s UVRays Masters team has held its annual Trent Event to honor the memory of Trent Toensing, a cherished teammate who died that year.
In a nod to Trent’s age (80) and favorite stroke (backstroke), UVRays head coach Barbara Hummel designed a challenging workout of 80 separate “swims” that would take 80 minutes to complete, and would include backstroke lengths throughout. Swimmers were encouraged to dedicate their swim to Trent, and to make a donation in Trent’s honor to UVAC’s Learn-to-Swim program, a cause he had long supported.
The 2021 Trent Event achieved record fundraising thanks to UVRay Debbe Callaghan, who offered to donate all proceeds from her Extraordinary Knits sales.
Debbe, a talented and prolific knitter, held two porch sales of knitwear at her home in October 2021. The sale of shawls, cowls, hats, and scarves raised an extraordinary $2,665, bringing the fundraising total to more than $5,000.
“Debbe has a place in her heart for helping people learn to swim,” said Masters Coach Barbara Hummel. “In early December 2016, Debbe emailed me to ask if I’d help her learn to swim,” Barbara said. “Debbe said she wasn’t afraid of the water or of drowning, but had no confidence about swimming even a single lap. She wanted to become comfortable swimming and to swim regularly.”
Barbara worked one-on-one with Debbe for several months, starting with basic breathing exercises in the warm-water pool and progressing to the competition pool. “Debbe was one of the most dedicated swimmers I’ve ever met,” said Barbara. “She had a goal and was determined to reach it. Debbe knows how empowering it can be to learn to swim, and I think she wanted to pay that forward with her incredible generosity toward the Trent Event and the UVAC learn-to-swim program. Her passion got the entire team motivated this year.”
Debbe eventually joined the UVRays. She and her husband, Carey, swim regularly with the team.
“I am grateful beyond words for our awesome coach Barbara, our teammates, and our pool,” Debbe said. “I had a lot of pandemic knitting projects and the sale seemed like a good way to give back to the swimming community.”
Debbe lost two of the past five years of swimming to illness and then to the pandemic. Now back at the pool, she says she and Carey aspire to swim four days a week: “And most of the time, that happens. I have it pretty easy with Carey as my personal chauffeur and lane mate cheerleader.”
Debbe learned to knit as a child from her grandmother. She didn’t knit again until, in adulthood, she started traveling frequently for business. The activity was ideal for long flights.
The knit sale allowed swimmers to buy beautiful items and support an important cause. Since it was covid-safe and held outdoors, it also gave the Rays the opportunity to meet teammates from other practices.
“It was great to see swimmers socially, and meet some Niner’s [swimmers from Coach Signe Linville’s 9am practice] I’d never met before,” Debbe said. “Carey had the important jobs of parking valet, serving homemade cookies, and hat model. Everyone’s enthusiasm and generosity were wonderful!”
“The Masters swimmers are super friendly and embracing,” she added. “Although I’m always the slowest swimmer, I always leave practice feeling great.”
It turns out swimming and knitting have some things in common.
Debbe: “One more row, one more lap. There are always new techniques to learn. Both knitting and swimming leave me with strong feelings of accomplishment.”
The Hartford Learn-to-Swim program teaches over 130 Hartford students to learn to swim, or to improve their swimming ability, each year. The program is free and includes transportation with after-school care, in collaboration with Hartford Parks and Recreation Department.
Story by Masters swimmer Liz Kelsey