On Sunday morning, the traffic roundabouts leading to Skyline High School off North Maple Road were littered with piles of slush, as the snow and freezing rain that began the previous day continued to fall. Undeterred were around 40 masters swimmers, who navigated to Skyline’s natatorium to participate in a new event on the swimming schedule: Ann Arbor Active Against ALS Holiday Relays.
Meet director Amanda Mercer told The Chronicle that the A2A3 Holiday Relays, which were sanctioned by Michigan Masters for U.S. Masters Swimming, will be an annual fixture on the swimming calendar. The inaugural edition featured standard swimming relays, which took full advantage of the electronic timing pads at Skyline’s pool: A new pool record of 53.23 was established for the 100-yard backstroke.
But the relays also included some non-standard races, including one where the relay “baton” was a T-shirt that had to be peeled off one swimmer, then donned by the next one in sequence.
Participants included a former Ann Arbor planning commissioner, and a former Olympic swimmer.
The Holiday Relays are one of several activity-based fundraising efforts by A2A3, which is a nonprofit that was formed in 2008 by friends and neighbors of Bob Schoeni, who has been diagnosed with ALS, a fatal neuro-degenerative disorder. A2A3 raises funds specifically for research to find a cure for what’s commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Schoeni was on hand Sunday morning to cheer on the swimmers.
The relays were sponsored by several local businesses, including: Probility, Health and Fitness Center at Washtenaw Community College, Jolly Pumpkin, Grizzly Peak, Blue Tractor, Barry’s Bagels, and Pizza House.
In addition to in-kind contributions from sponsors – like the 50 pizzas from Pizza House enjoyed by swimmers after the races – contributions for the event came from swimmers themselves, who paid $40 to participate in six different races. Mercer estimated the amount of money raised from registration fees to be around $1,500. Before the meet began, Mercer solicited volunteers to complete some of the relay teams that had no-shows due to the inclement weather. Some of the teams had been assembled by A2A3, which encouraged swimmers to register for the meet at-large, even if they weren’t part of a complete four-person relay. A2A3 then formed teams out of the solo registrants.
The venue – Skyline High School’s natatorium – was secured through the Skyline men’s swim team, which sold concessions at the relays as a fundraiser. Skyline swimmers also provided logistical support for the meet – for example, the electronic timing pads need to be installed and then removed, because they’re not permanently built into the pool walls.
The meet began with an impeccable rendition of the national anthem from Rachel Hunsberger.
The swimming started off with the 400-yard medley relay – an event where respective swimmers complete 100 yards of backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle. In the 25-yard-long Skyline pool, that meant four lengths per relay leg. Backstroke came first, with 34-year old Ryan Papa in Lane 2 completing his leg in 53.23 – which was a few ticks faster than the pool record of 56.87, held by Zac Cain of Howell High School. Papa swam for the University of Michigan team, beginning as a freshman in 1994. He also participated in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games, representing the Philippines.
Later in the racing program, a participant in the “crescendo” relay – where the four relay participants complete legs of 50, 100, 200, then 500 yards – demonstrated that “freestyle” allows swimmers to choose whatever stroke they like. As he completed his 500 yards with the butterfly stroke – floating up and down 20 lengths of the pool – the lap counters remarked among themselves how James always swam the butterfly. His last name, they weren’t sure about. But Joel Dalton, who helped put together the event for A2A3, looked it up on his smart phone, saying that he served with him on the executive committee of the local Sierra Club: James’ last name is D’Amour. Some Chronicle readers will also recognize D’Amour as a former city planning commissioner, or more recently as an advocate for keeping Mack Pool open, when it was faced with closure due to budget constraints.
Dalton put together the music that played over the intercom during the meet. He handles DJ responsibilities for the annual Burns Park 5K Run as well. He confirmed for The Chronicle after the meet that it was no coincidence that “You Can Leave Your Hat On” was the selection during the T-shirt relay.
The non-standard event entails passing a T-shirt from one swimmer to the next, with the stipulation that the shirt must actually be worn – arms through armholes and head through the neck hole.
Shirts are allowed to be inside-out, however. So the most efficient teams in the “baton” transfer had their incoming swimmer climb up on the deck and touch hands with the next swimmer London-bridge style – teammates then peeled the wet shirt from the one swimmer directly onto the next.
A2A3 bases its fundraising approach on events where community members engage in physical activity, either as a solo effort or with others. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Freedom of the (Leg) Press" and "Box Cars Zoom Down South University"]
Chronicle readers are hereby duly notified to keep alert for forthcoming details of an upcoming A2A3 event, the Twinkie Run, which will take place on April 1, 2011. As the name suggests, the event includes running, as well as an opportunity to consume tasty snack treats.