Caroline Rhodes, Class of 2021

I’ll never forget my very first day at William & Mary, when the entire Tribe Swim team came to my dorm room to help me move in; they showed me very early on that the swim team was more than just a group of swimmers. The team showed me immediate kindness, and after about a week of being at school, I was convinced that this team was made up of some of the best people I’ve ever known.

Soon after that, I decided that these people were my family. They were my kind of people; the kind of people who will laugh and dance and cry and grieve with you. They are the kind of people who will drop everything in the middle of the day to drive you to the hospital, because they really truly care. The kind of people who are determined and kind, courageous and compassionate. They are teammates, friends, confidants, and most importantly family.

Tribe Swimmers were exactly the kind of people I needed to be around at this time in my life. Throughout my freshman year of college, I struggled with a malicious eating disorder. It took away the joy from every aspect of my life, including swimming. My teammates on Tribe Swim got me through those dark months. They listened to me, were my shoulder to cry on, and my support system as I fought to get better. Over time, my eating disorder began to worsen, and by February 2018 I was barely holding on. I was in crisis mode, and really lost and hurting. My Tribe was there to catch me when I fell; they knew what was best for me and they pushed for me to get help.

The Athletic Department that operates under Samantha Huge, however, did not. Members of the Athletic Department violated my right to privacy under HIPPA and discussed my private mental health information with inappropriate individuals without asking my permission. Members of the Athletic Department called me a “detriment to the team” as a cause of my eating disorder, and coordinated with the counseling center to immediately remove me from campus in a manner that discriminated against me as an individual protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Most importantly, Athletic Director Samantha Huge turned a blind eye. My story is one example of how Huge’s athletic department sets a standard of simply not caring for the well-being of student athletes.

All of this occurred during my second semester of freshman year at W&M. The actions of the athletic department and counseling center were traumatizing for me and I felt truly unwelcome and unwanted at this school as a result of their actions. I’m now a senior at William & Mary, and Tribe swim was the reason I came back. I couldn’t imagine continuing my education at any other institution because that would mean leaving my family. The people, not the sport, was the reason I kept swimming, and they welcomed me back with open arms - it was like I never left. They immediately rushed to my side and we became closer than ever before as a result of the pain and hardship we conquered together. Family are the people who have your back no matter what, and that’s what Tribe Swim was.

Last fall, I ended my career as a competitive swimmer as I realized my heart is no longer in the competition aspect of the sport. And yet, the members of Tribe Swim remain my closest friends in the world. My love, appreciation, and gratitude for Tribe Swim is endless. I would never be back at W&M had the team not existed, and I am so incredibly sad that this team has now been cast aside by the University. Huge’s statement to the student-athletes was grossly unsympathetic, cold and dubious. She delivered an obviously rehearsed, insensitive statement in seven short minutes, and ended the meeting eight seconds after finishing her statement without taking a single question. Her actions in the present and past have shown a blatant disregard for the welfare of student-athletes and she must be held accountable. She fails to see that Tribe Swim and all the other discontinued athletic teams are worth so much more than just their athletic achievements. The damage she has done has not only broken the hearts of so many athletes and ended their hard-earned athletic careers; she has broken up families - but that is where she made a critical mistake. Tribe Swim is one tribe, one family and we will not go down without a fight.

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