Swim team makes splash to fight cystic fibrosis

A Niskayuna diver makes a graceful entry. Photo by Rebecca IsenhartA Niskayuna diver makes a graceful entry. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart
swim team

Niskayuna Wild Turkey swim and dive team members play a game of Sharks and Minnows at the Town Pool during a fundraiser for the Donna M. Crandall Foundation. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

By REBECCA ISENHART
Gazette Reporter

“Color!”
“Red!”
Splash.
“Ice cream!”
“Strawberry!”
Splash.

This is what it sounds like when the Niskayuna Wild Turkey swim and dive team takes a break from focusing on their regular practices.

On Friday, July 25, about 30 kids lined up at the Niskayuna Town Pool’s two diving boards for the first of several games. As each one made a run for the pool, a swim coach would yell out a category, and the jumper would try to name an item in the category before hitting the water.

Sometimes it went more like this:

“Country in OPEC!”
“What!?”
Splash.

Parents and siblings, on a rare hiatus from running back and forth to practice, relaxed on the deck and had a good laugh at the swimmers’ expense.

There’s no doubt the event was a party, complete with pizza, candy, raffles and tons of fun. But it was also a fundraiser. In just a few hours, the Niskayuna Wild Turkeys’ silly antics raised over $2,500 to improve the lives of cystic fibrosis patients around the Capital Region.

The team does this every year to raise money for the Donna M. Crandall Foundation, a charity organization run by a family in Niskayuna that memorializes the well-loved resident. It began helping in 2008 and has raised about $6,500 since then, not including this year’s donation.

Swim team head coach Brendan Griffiths, 20, who has participated in the team in various capacities since he was about 10 years old, worked hard with the other coaches and parents to prepare for the event. He had to make sure as many swimmers as possible sold raffle tickets, brought food for the bake sale, and convinced family and friends to pledge money to the foundation.

On the day of the fundraiser, he was enjoying the results of all that preparation.

“It’s a lot of fun to play games with the kids and hang out,” he said. “You really have to keep them in line in the morning.”

The foundation itself began in 2000, after Donna Crandall passed away after living with cystic fibrosis for 41 years.

“We just wanted to come up with something that would keep Donna’s memory alive in our family,” said Lisa Cheney, Donna’s sister-in-law and vice president of the foundation. They began by passing out gift bags to patients at local cystic fibrosis clinics. As more community groups in Niskayuna learned about the foundation, it grew.

“Sometimes people are trying to make their money $10,000 at a time,” Cheney said. “We’re coming up on raising $2 million in 14 years and it’s $10 at a time, not $10,000.”

The Donna M. Crandall Foundation often gets donations from Girl Scout troops and school clubs, and the organizers are very grateful for every dollar. The foundation now pays for parking, meals, television, and phone service for cystic fibrosis patients at Albany Medical Center, in addition to the original gift bags, which now include exciting presents like iPods, Kindle Fire e-readers, and Beats by Dre headphones.

The foundation puts aside $50,000 each year to help families in emergency financial situations like missed mortgage payments, because treatment for the disease can be exceptionally pricey, and there is always enough left over in the summer for an outpatient event where cystic fibrosis patients win money to use however they like.

“We do laugh, as we run it out of our house, out of the basement. We never dreamed that this would be what it turned into,” Cheney said.

The late Donna Crandall’s husband, David, is president of the foundation and was principal of Iroquois Middle School for many years. Some of the swimmers remember being a student under his guidance before he retired, including head coach Griffiths.

“He was just a cool person to have as a principal,” he said.

As the swim team wrapped up an intense round of “sharks and minnows” in the pool, swim mom Jill LaFlamme prepped pizza and cake. She’s participated in the fundraiser every year that her two kids, 15-year-old Darby and 14-year-old Owen, have been on the team.

“They’ve put in a lot of hard work this season, so this is a nice thing for them to do,” she said. “It’s the whole team that comes together for it.”

All that splashing around will create ripples that improve the lives of cystic fibrosis patients throughout the year.

“We’re just so thrilled to help the families,” Cheney said. “We’re so grateful for any donation that someone gives us.”

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.