HASTINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lydia Cole has a gift.  

She is a talented swimmer — but that’s not the gift we’re talking about.

“This is kind of a distraction,” she said with a laugh, gesturing toward the pool behind her. “It’s very helpful.”

A junior at Thornapple Kellogg High School, she swims through a cooperative program with students from Delton Kellogg and Hastings.  

Lydia Cole
Lydia Cole swims at practice on Oct. 22, 2019.

“Lydia is something special.  She works hard,” head coach Carl Schoessel said. “She’s never missed a practice.”

Well, she has missed a few, but it wasn’t by choice.

In May, doctors told Cole she had pancreatic cancer.

“I don’t really ever remember feeling much,” Cole said. “It took me awhile to realize what had been said to me.

“I kind of thought, no big deal, I can get through it,” she continued. “Many people beat cancer all the time. So I’ll just be another one of those people.”

She just finished her fifth round of chemotherapy. Her course of treatment involves taking countless pills, day and night, for two-week stretches. 

“I think a lot of people think about the worst parts,” Cole said. “I don’t know. I just would rather focus on the positive.”

Swimming is a big positive. It’s also a place Cole and her teammates are used to helping others in their struggle with cancer.  

Schoessel lost his wife Loretta to breast cancer in 2011. Before she died, they started a cancer awareness swim meet. The kids raise money and honor those they know affected by the disease.

Lydia Cole
A #TeamLydia T-shirt. The names listed in the ribbon are people Lydia Cole knows who have been affected by cancer. (Oct. 22, 2019)

No one ever thought one of those names would be a teammate’s.

“When I got all the girls together, I said to them, ‘We’re going to dedicate this season to Lydia,'” Schoessel said.

The students are doing more than that. All the money raised at this year’s cancer awareness meet will go to help cover Cole’s medical expenses.

“We Just want to help her out as much as we can because we are her family on this team,” senior Lauren Myers said. “It just makes sense that somebody that we all love so much, that we would like to help her any way we can.”

“Everyone says she’s such a kind genuine person because she is,” senior Holly Bashore said. “She treats everyone with such love. It’s unwavering.”

Those who know Lydia well aren’t surprised by her response to the support and generosity her teammates and community have shown.  

“I just thought I don’t need it as much as they think I do, so I’m actually looking at charities to donate all the money to,” Cole said.

“Don’t take more than you need. People want to help you out. I like that we’re raising a lot of money this year, because this is a lot more money than we’ve raised in the past couple years,” she added. “I think it’s great people are giving more because of me but I want to give it all back.”

But that’s not her gift either.

“It’s just her character,” Bashore added. “I’m not surprised. She wants everybody to be happy.”

For more information on the swim meet or to donate, visit TeamLydia.com.

The meet is scheduled to take place at the Hastings Community Education and Recreation Center on Thursday beginning at 6 p.m. You do not need to be present to donate or show your support.