HIGHLAND | Twenty-seven posters lined the walls of the Highland High School Natatorium Dec. 20 – each representing a family helped this holiday season by the Northwest Indiana Cancer Kids Foundation.
The posters were made by members of the Highland Hurricanes Swim Club, which hosted an official USA Swimming Swim-a-Thon to raise money, in part, for the NICK Foundation.
“This was one of the most heartwarming benefits that has ever been done for us,” said Donna Criner, NICK’s director and co-founder. After all laps had been logged, Criner left with a check for more than $3,000, presented by HHSC President Jim Stange.
HHSC chose NICK as a beneficiary of its annual fundraiser. Five percent of proceeds went to the USA Swimming Foundation, which works nationally to teach children how to swim. The rest was divided between NICK and the Hurricanes, a competitive swim organization for children 5 to 18 in Highland and surrounding communities.
The club shattered its original $5,000 goal by raising $7,098. Sixty-six swimmers, from 5 to 15, swam 3,194 lengths of the pool, maximized to its full length of 42.5 yards.
If the event began with any swimmer not realizing the full impact of their participation, they most definitely knew by the time they grabbed their celebratory pizza slice.
Following their hour-long swim, head coach Nick Castillo shouted his praise. “You may have just made somebody’s Christmas,” he told the swimmers. “You may have just saved someone’s life.”
Criner thanked the swimmers and explained the impact of their donation.
“(Cancer) is a very scary place to be. It can be very scary for the whole family. We help the whole family. . .sometimes insurance doesn’t cover all the treatment. We help them with things like that,” Criner said. “We continue to fight for research dollars so that more kids can be saved and cured.”
Criner’s family fought childhood cancer in 2007, when her grandson was diagnosed at 22 months with neuroblastoma.
“I looked for a support system in Northwest Indiana for my daughter and her family and there was none,” Criner said. “So when he was better, we thought 'What if we could keep a little of this money that we were raising and reach out to families that we are hearing about in our community?'”
Six years later, Drew is a thriving, happy second-grader and Criner is extending a hand to Northwest Indiana families going through what her family endured.
Criner said that her favorite way to build awareness and raise money is with events that have "kids helping kids."
The Hurricanes agree. “I did 82 laps,” said Emily Marvel, 11. “We were tired at the end, but that is nothing compared to what those kids have gone through.”