Swimming to save lives

In honor of her sister, a student organizes an event to raise money to fight Multiple Sclerosis.

AnnRejratFor a while, I just stared at my computer screen.

I had just received permission to organize an event, Swim for MS, through Campus Recreation for the second year in a row. In theory, the event is simple to plan. Swim for MS, an event to raise money for a debilitating disease called Multiple Sclerosis, is to be held March 18 in Pearson and McGonigle Hall, Pool 30. 

But telling people why I so desperately want to hold Swim for MS every year – that’s what I have difficulty expressing. I need to explain, clearly and concisely, how life-changing MS is for people.  

During my senior year of high school, I realized how bad the disease was. To be honest, the exact day it happened still feels unreal. The day it happened feels like a movie sequence when I reflect on it, rather than something I lived through – something I was in control of. 

On that day, I sat on a packed pool deck listening to a crowd of competitive swimmers. That morning, my parents had left Scranton, our hometown, to rush my sister to neurological specialists at Georgetown University. Her health had been fading fast over the past couple of months. I was supposed to hear news about her health after my swim meet, which seemed to take forever. When my mother finally called, I couldn’t understand much of what she told me through her tears. But I did understand that the news was bad. My mom would later tell me that, on the way to the hospital, she gripped my sister in the back seat for the entire five-hour drive and prayed. 

I’m the youngest of six kids. Out of all of my older siblings, only one other than me is a girl. It’s not hard to see why I always looked up to her. In what felt like an army of boys, she was the only other girl I had to support me. I was her real-life Barbie when we were younger and her eternal sidekick. I used to cry every time she left me behind and crawl into her bed when I was scared. I’ve always admired her. 

When my sister and role model Krystyna was 25, only a few years after she graduated from Temple as a member of the women’s rowing team, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a devastating autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. In its simplest description, it attacks the body’s nerve endings, and once they are gone, they are gone. There is no cure. People who live with this disease have a wide range of symptoms, including numbness, difficulty eating, difficulty talking, loss of eyesight and difficulty moving. The year my sister was diagnosed, I watched her health deteriorate. She lost her ability to talk, eat, grip and walk. 

Krystyna has improved with the help of some incredible doctors. However, the truth is, I don’t know how much longer I will have her. 

What I do know is that I have always wanted to help her and others like her. This is the second year I am working to organize Swim for MS with Campus Recreation. The event will benefit the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, and 100 percent of the proceeds raised through the event benefit those living with MS. 

The MSAA provides services that those living with MS need to survive. Despite the obvious benefits of the event, writing about it – even planning it – is hard. All I can think of is the day of my swim meet, my parents and sister having to leave for Christmas for health reasons, and my sister trying to call on Christmas Eve, unable to talk. All I could do was tell her I loved her and assume by the inaudible noises she was saying she loved me too. 

Last year, during Swim for MS, I stayed through the entire duration of the event to talk with people who signed up and participated. I learned that MS affects many people within our Temple community. I received countless hugs, listened to people’s stories, watched people struggle to wipe away tears and truthfully express their thanks for the event. 

To sign up, donate, help spread the word or learn more about the cause and how to help, go to support.mymsaa.org/goto/templecrec. This year we will be raffling off a Philadelphia Flyers puck signed by Michael Raffl and a hockey stick signed by Braydon Coburn. Anyone who signs up and participates on March 18 will be automatically entered to win.  

This year I hope we can reach out and help more people. However, it won’t happen without help. The event is not just about my sister’s story, but about the stories of all people living with this incurable disease and what others can do to help.  

Ann Rejrat can be reached at ann.rejrat@temple.edu.

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