Annual Aquathon to raise awareness for ALS

Although the first semester is quickly coming to a close, the Upper School has begun to prepare for one of its biggest charity events of the year: the Aquathon. Varsity swimming coach Pete Higgins organizes the annual event with the help of his swim team to raise money for and promote awareness of the disease ALS, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“[ALS] is a very ugly disease,” said Higgins.“Although your mind is healthy, you lose control of your body.”

Being a degenerative disease, ALS leads to muscle atrophy, causing the affected body to slowly reach a state of complete paralysis. Higgins created this event in response to the death of his son, Bobby, who passed away four years after his diagnosis of ALS.

“The fact is that the influence of ALS is so close to us, both the swim team and the Westminster community as a whole,” said sophomore swimmer Phoebe Liu. “The death of Coach Pete’s son, Bobby, is extremely saddening and really inspires us to be proactive about the cause and to go all out in the fundraiser.”

Because ALS is not widely known, Higgins hopes to bring more awareness of the disease within the community. In recent years, a viral sensation of the “ALS ice bucket challenge” circulated throughout the nation, leading to greater attention to the gravity of the disease.Thus, the main goals of the Aquathon are to not only raise money for research but also to encourage students to learn and understand about ALS.

“I feel like the ALS challenge last year really brought up awareness of ALS,” said sophomore Albert Zhang, “but people just kind of forgot about the disease after that. I think the ALS aquathon helps people learn about ALS annually.”

Through the event, students can approach fundraising in different ways. The most common method involves actual swimming, in which a swimmer finds a sponsor who pledges to donate a certain amount of money per lap swum by a given swimmer. Furthermore, many participants also manage to collect significant amounts of donations aside from the swimming.

“Each swimmer finds a person to sponsor them and makes a deal with the sponsor to pledge to donate a certain amount of money for each length swum,” said sophomore swimmer Bryan Weselman. “For example, if I swim 160 lengths with 20 cents per length, for a total of 4000 yards, my sponsor donates 32 bucks.”

Besides the swimming laps, the event offers other activities like games to raise money as well. Food and drinks are also provided for those who participate or show up to cheer everyone on. In addition to prizes from the games, free items are offered at the event.

“It’s really fun,” said sophomore swimmer Betsy Blitch. “Usually the swim team plays water polo in the diving area and there is a lot of food and free prizes.”

Everyone, including students, faculty, and alumni, is invited to participate in the aquathon. Every year, many people who are not members of the swim team join together and swim to raise money.

“I’m not a great swimmer, but I think that the event welcomes both swimmers and non-swimmers,” said Zhang. “It’s a great way to both have a good time and do something for a cause.”

   Aside from running the annual aquathon, Higgins has also been a member of the Georgia board of the ALS Association for seven years, ever since his son was first stricken with the disease in 2003. This event raises generous amounts for charity and brings all people alike to join together to support the cause.

“I think that through participating in the ALS aquathon, people really bond as friends, as they come and grow together for a better future for those who are victims of the disease,” said Liu. “It’s more than just raising money. It’s about just coming together for something bigger than themselves.”

Typically, swimmers swim for about five cents per lap, and each donation ranges from $10 to $100.

“We average about $10,000 per year,” said Higgin. “Hopefully, all this money can help us find a cure.”

For those looking to participate in the event, the Aquathon takes place in January at the Westminster swimming pool.

“We hope everyone can attend,” said assistant varsity swimming coach Jan Allen. “Come support this important cause and enjoy breakfast food and door prizes as well. Bring family and friends!”