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One Year Later . . . . . . Notre Dame's women swimmers are slowly healing from a tragic accident that killed two teammates

Jan. 25, 1993
Jan. 25, 1993

Table of Contents
Jan. 25, 1993

FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR

One Year Later . . . . . . Notre Dame's women swimmers are slowly healing from a tragic accident that killed two teammates

The first road trip for the women swimmers of Notre Dame this
season was to Kingston, R.I., in the first weekend of December. The
plane from South Bend landed in Providence in the middle of the
night, and wouldn't you know it, the weather was terrible. The
temperature was around freezing, and snow and rain and sleet and ice
seemed to be coming out of the sky all at once. Wouldn't you know it.
The darkness suddenly was filled with peril.

This is an article from the Jan. 25, 1993 issue Original Layout

Six minivans were waiting to take the women and the school's men
swimmers, who were traveling with them, to the Quality Inn, where the
two teams would stay during the National Catholic Championships at
the University of Rhode Island pool. Tim Welsh, who coaches both
teams, had envisioned a little convoy heading to the motel. He
would drive the final van himself and assist if problems developed
with any of the vans in front of him. The weather suddenly brought
chaos. One van left and then another and another. The idea of a
convoy disappeared.
''Providence is one of those smaller airports,'' Welsh says.
''When you get into your rental car, you have to wait for a little
truck carrying someone to check your papers and send you on your way.
The truck came to me last. By the time I was finished, everyone else
was gone.''
The drivers of the other vans were two assistant coaches, a
manager and two team captains. Each driver seemed to follow a
different course. The directions to the motel were a little sketchy.
Take Route 1 to Route 138. Proceed to motel. Proceed? Where was the
turn? Where was the motel? Windshield wipers fought an uneven battle
against the elements.
Welsh became lost. He thought the motel would be directly off the
exit, and when it wasn't, he doubled back, then doubled back again.
After traveling another mile or so, he reached his destination by
luck. His van was the first to arrive. All of the other vans had
become lost.
''With any other sports team, I suppose it all would have been a
big laugh,'' Welsh says. ''The Day Everyone Became Lost. With us . .
. now . . . it became an emotional experience.''
Where was everyone? More important, was everyone all right? This
snow became the snow of Jan. 24, 1992, less than 11 months earlier.
This night became that night, a few minutes past midnight, the times
almost matching. These roads became the Indiana Toll Road -- mile 74,
to be precise, only three miles from the Notre Dame campus. What
could happen? The picture of tragedy came back so easily. The skid.
The overturned bus. The disorientation. The injuries. The deaths.
''It was all so much the same,'' Kristin Heath, a junior who swims
the 400 individual medley, says. ''Exactly the same. The weather. Not
snow, not rain, just all this freezing stuff. Everyone was scared.
The girl next to me, her fingernails were digging into my arm the
entire trip. We all were just holding on to each other. That's all we
could do.''
As each van finally arrived at the motel, there was celebration.
Tears and celebration. The final van was driven by senior freestyler
Susan Bohdan. She somehow had wound up with all male passengers, and
they had tried to help by making small jokes as each turn seemed to
be a wrong turn. She had kept the rising panic inside her for the
entire trip. Be strong. Be strong. She started to bawl when she saw
the other women swimmers in the motel.
What could happen? These were people who knew, who really knew.
They hugged each other in grand relief. Alive and together. Off on
this season of challenges that no team should ever have to face. Off
on the road again, fighting their fears and reaffirming the strength
of the human spirit every day in even the smallest things they did.
Peril or no peril, there was a swimming meet on the schedule. The
women of Notre Dame were here.

A WRITER'S NOTE: Should I mention this? Should I mention that
Kristin Heath is my goddaughter? I have known her since she was born.
Her father has been my best friend forever. He is my son's godfather,
and I am her godfather. Should I mention this? I have pictures of her
and my son when they were infants, the two of them posed in their
little strap-in seats, sort of gurgling at the camera. I have
pictures of them at different ages. Memories. Are they part of my
story?

''Everything is a first,'' Heath says about this new season and
the string of moments that have to be faced. ''The first time we all
came back to school this year. First time back in the pool. First
team meeting. The first meet, everyone looking at us. Providence, the
first trip. One first is going to follow another. The anniversary.
The first bus trip. You don't know how you're going to react to each
particular thing when it comes along.''
''Everyone is going along at her own pace,'' Welsh says. ''If I
have 50 swimmers, there are 50 different seasons inside this season.
It's going to be the same day on the calendar and we're all going to
be in the same pool, but heads are going to be in 50 different
places. Thoughts about the accident always are going to be with us.
The accident doesn't weigh on us in everything we do, but it's never
more than a sentence away. Never.''
The accident. The accident. The ordinary cannot be ordinary
anymore. That is the legacy of all personal tragedy. A certain word,
a phrase, a look, an article of clothing, a random shadow at a
particular time of day can trigger thoughts and emotions. Any of the
million stage props of life can do the job. Anything. For the Notre
Dame women, the events of Jan. 24, 1992, always will be a part of
whatever they do. Two of their friends and teammates, freshmen
Margaret (Meghan) Beeler and Colleen Hipp, died. Almost everyone else
was injured physically, the injuries ranging from simple scrapes to
a broken back with the devastating prognosis of paralysis. The
emotional injuries were as wide-ranging and serious, the insulated
joys of college interrupted by sad reality. Forget? How is this
possible?
The accident occurred on the return from a meet at Northwestern in
Evanston, Ill. Normally the men's and women's teams of Notre Dame
travel together to meets at the same school, but on this one night
the women traveled alone. The Northwestern swimming programs are
separate, and the Notre Dame men already had swum against the
Northwestern men. The men joked that it would be nice to be freed
from the women for an afternoon workout.
Notre Dame is not yet a national swimming power. The school has a
respectable program in which, because of Title IX, the scholarship
emphasis is on the women to help balance all of the scholarships
given to football. The women swimmers have the equivalent of eight
full scholarships, which will be increased next year to 10, while the
men have only one. Welsh juggles pool time for all of the swimmers
according to the many quirks in their class schedules.
The women had lost in Evanston 183-117. The weather was not
particularly bad going through Chicago. The trip was not considered
long. Ninety miles away, Chicago sometimes seems like a South Bend
suburb. The driver of the United Limo bus was 53-year-old Howard
Dixon. He was a familiar figure, often driving the team on trips,
asking swimmers how they had done in their specialties. This night
was no different. Pizza and Gatorade were served as a snack, and a
movie was shown on three television sets. The title of the movie was
Dying Young.
On the Indiana Toll Road, Interstate 80-90, the weather became
worse and worse. The road has four lanes, two in each direction, with
a grassy ditch carved in the middle most of the way. It is a major
Midwestern highway, heavy with truck traffic at night, a straight
ribbon laid across the cornfields. Returning to South Bend from the
opposite direction on a similar road was another United Limo bus,
with the Notre Dame women's basketball team, which had lost to Butler
University in Indianapolis. Missy Conboy, the school's associate
athletic director, was driving with coach Muffet McGraw in a car
behind the bus. Conboy couldn't believe the weather. The Midwestern
term for it is whiteout.
''You couldn't see five feet in front of you,'' Conboy says. ''I
was just following the lights on the bus. I turned to Muffet and
said, 'Wouldn't you rather be on the bus?' It was so big, so strong.
A bus. It looked so much safer.''
The accident occurred so close to the Notre Dame campus that when
the swimmers' bus started to slide, some of the women thought they
simply had arrived at the exit. More than one witness reported later
that the bus had been traveling too fast for the conditions. (A grand
jury considered the evidence and declined to indict the driver.)
Dennis J. Starks, a Chicago prosecutor heading to Washington, D.C.,
for a family visit, was in the final car passed by the bus. He
reported being worried that the turbulence created by the bus would
cause him to skid on the icy, snow-covered road.
''I could plainly see that the bus had gotten no more than 20 or
30 yards ahead of me when the driver lost control,'' Starks said in
his statement to police. ''At first the rear of the bus fishtailed to
the left. Then the rear fishtailed to the right. Next, the bus made a
180-degree turn, with the front of the bus facing me. While in its
180-degree position, it began sliding to my right, off the road . . .
down what appeared to be a ravine. It flipped over once and came to a
rest upside down.''
Welsh, sitting directly behind Dixon, heard the driver say, ''Hang
on. Here we go.'' There had been other skids on other buses on other
trips, part of Midwestern traveling in the snow. There never had been
a skid like this one. When the bus flipped, Beeler and Hipp, two
19-year-old freshmen, tumbled out the windows and died of
asphyxiation, the weight of the bus literally knocking all of the
wind out of them. Everyone else was dumped inside the bus, upside
down, in darkness and pain and confusion. There were no seat belts.
Luggage spilled everywhere. The toilet was emptied, the contents
running down the ceiling, which was now the floor. People landed on
top of other people.
Bohdan, sitting near the back next to freshman Haley Scott, was
the first swimmer to climb outside. She looked at this unbelievable
scene, the roof of the bus crushed against the ground, the wheels
spinning in the air. She stood in the cold and thought she was the
only one who had survived. Then, slowly, other forms started to
scramble free. She went back to the bus to help.
''I'd taken lifeguarding classes all my life, but I'd never had to
use any of the stuff,'' Bohdan says. ''Now, I was glad I knew a few
things. I found $ Haley, and she was really hurt. She walked off the
bus, but I had her lie down. I stayed with her until help came. We
have this thing we say when we swim, 'Cancel the pain.' That's what I
kept saying to her. 'Cancel. Cancel the pain.' ''
Help started arriving from assorted directions. Ten ambulances and
fire fighters from two departments hurried injured swimmers to three
different hospitals in the South Bend area. The school was notified.
Assistant sports- information director Rose Pietrzak was told by the
state police that there had been a bus accident involving the women's
swimming team, with ''two 10-0's.'' She said she did not know what a
10-0 was. The state policeman told her that it was the designation
for a fatality. Pietrzak went to the scene, and other school
officials went to the hospitals. The men swimmers, hearing about the
accident, also hurried to the hospitals. The night seemed to last
forever.
The most serious injury -- after the fatalities -- was to Scott, a
freshman fly specialist. She had broken her back, and paralysis had
set in. Bohdan, hearing the news, said this was not possible, that
she had seen her friend walk from the bus. The doctors said that what
she saw did not matter. Scott probably was going to be paralyzed for
life.
''You talk about courage,'' Notre Dame athletic director Dick
Rosenthal says. ''I rush to the hospital, and here's Haley, this
18-year-old kid. She's from Phoenix, so she's far from home and all
alone, and the doctors are saying there's a good chance she will
never walk again. They're talking about the possibilities of
exploratory surgery, which would have to be done soon. She says,
'Well, what are we waiting for? Let's get going.' Eighteen years old.
Unbelievable.''
Of the 37 passengers on the bus, including the driver, the only
ones not to report an injury were Welsh and senior Shana Stephens.
Randy Julian, Welsh's assistant, broke an arm. Many swimmers suffered
acute cervical strain. The list of injuries included lacerations,
broken ribs and fingers, contusions and 'blunt head trauma.' Heath
broke her left collarbone.
After struggling out of the bus, Heath and another swimmer,
Michelle Lower, were taken to Memorial Hospital in South Bend by a
passing truck driver before they had been accounted for. This created
a problem when school officials first tried to sort out the confusion
and found they were missing two swimmers. Initial reports of the
accident said two swimmers were dead and two missing.
| ''You can't believe how glad I was to hear they were in the
hospital,'' Bill Kirk, Notre Dame's assistant vice-president for
residence life, told Heath's father. ''I was worried that I was going
to have to make a far different phone call to you.''
There was, alas, no reprieve from the two sad phone calls he did
have to make. He said that was the saddest experience of his life.

A friend called at 6:30 in the morning. He said there had been an
accident and that Kristin Heath had broken her collarbone but
otherwise was all right. Her parents were on the way to Indiana. I
sat in the living room in my pajamas and watched the reports on CNN
and the Today show and Good Morning America, clicking from one to
another to see the same pictures of the snow and the overturned bus.
I sat alone and cold and feeling lousy. Is that part of the story?
How many friends and relatives of these swimmers were doing the same
thing, feeling the same feelings on this one morning? Isn't that the
story of all tragedy, the long fingers that reach in every direction?
Do I include that?

Notre Dame is a much smaller school than it appears to be on a
football Saturday televised by NBC. The overall enrollment is only
10,000, and the undergraduate enrollment is 7,600. There are no
fraternities, no sororities and very little off-campus living. Men
live in men's residence halls and women live in women's residence
halls, and after midnight during the school week, visitors of the
opposite sex are banned from dorm rooms. This is an old-time school
with old-time values, filled with tradition and a well-publicized
love of athletics. The accident was a shock to everyone. This was
tragedy in a small, friendly town.
''I'd say everyone on campus probably knew someone who was on that
bus,'' Kirk says. ''Or at least knew someone who knew someone who was
on the bus. Everyone was affected in some way.''
The days following the accident were filled with grief. A memorial
Mass was held at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart less than 24 hours
after the accident. The big church was filled to capacity, and more
than 200 students stood outside in the cold, simply wanting to be
close and to show their feelings. Inside, the crowd was so large that
the priests ran out of Communion wafers. Beeler was a local girl, a
graduate of St. Joseph's, the high school across the street from
Notre Dame. Her father was a former Notre Dame football player. Her
funeral three days later filled the church again. On the same day,
Hipp's funeral was held in St. Louis. Half the swim team went to one
funeral, half to the other, everyone wearing the long blue parka with
the words NOTRE DAME SWIMMING written across the back in gold. Two
corporate jets appeared for the trip to St. Louis, donated by alumni.
Ten swimmers, still confined by their injuries, attended neither
funeral.
Flowers appeared from everywhere, filling the team meeting room at
the Rolfs Aquatic Center and later displayed along the length of the
Olympic-sized pool. Welsh was overwhelmed by the condolences. The
swimming community of the U.S. is another small town, a close group.
Welsh says its love and concern were translated into a strength that
simply kept everyone moving, one step at a time.
''Anything we have been able to do since the accident has been
accomplished because of all that love,'' Welsh says. ''It hasn't
been abstract. It has been a physical presence. You could feel it.''

Five days after the accident, both the women and the men were
scheduled for a meet at home against the University of
Illinois-Chicago. Welsh decided they should swim. The meet would be
an affirmation of life. What are we? We are swimmers. What do we do?
We try to swim as fast as we can. The pool was packed with
spectators, with athletes from other Notre Dame teams and with camera
crews. Only 11 of the 34 women swimmers were well enough to compete.
This did not matter. Who are we? We are swimmers. The final result, a
124-87 Irish win, did not even matter, as glorious as it sounded.
Swimming mattered.
''We were all running on adrenaline,'' senior All-America Tanya
Williams says. ''We had been together the whole week. It was almost
like being in a dream state. I was really focused. I was O.K. It
truly was swimming from the heart.''
The men's basketball team was playing against DePaul that night
next door at the sold-out Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center. In
the second half the Irish were trailing and called a timeout. During
the timeout the women's swimming result was announced. The crowd
stood and applauded and applauded, and the pep band played the Notre
Dame Victory March until the teams returned to the floor. DePaul
never had a chance as the Irish rolled to a 74-69 win.
Notre Dame withdrew from a three-swim meet against Northern
Michigan and Eastern Michigan on Feb. 1 in Ypsilanti. There was
another emotional moment a month later when the men and women won the
Midwestern Collegiate Conference - swimming championships at home,
and another when Williams went off to the NCAAs and the Olympic
trials, but by then the time for healing had begun. Welsh had left
the flowers in the meeting room, not knowing exactly what to do but
feeling that this was the right choice. He encouraged swimmers and
their friends to take some of the flowers back to their dorms. That
also seemed right and natural.
For a month everyone wore the blue parkas around campus as a show
of solidarity, but then the parkas were put back in closets. They
became the last choice for something to wear. The swimmers found they
had become special people. It was an uneasy feeling on top of all the
other uneasy feelings.
''Just going to the dining hall became a chore,'' Bohdan says. ''I
hated to go to class. People would just be staring at you. They
didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to say. People need
normalcy in their lives, but in a situation like this, what is
normal? When everyone is so whacked-out?''
''I didn't deal with things right away,'' Williams says. ''I just
focused on swimming. When the Olympic trials were finished, it all
began to hit.''
The school made two decisions. First, every woman swimmer would be
awarded a Notre Dame varsity letter, no matter how little she had
competed. Second, every swimmer would keep her scholarship for the
remainder of the year and for the next year, whether or not she ever
came to the pool. Swimmers were urged but not forced to use the
school's psychological counselors. Each swimmer could move at her own
pace, discovering her own needs.
Heath's first need was to get back into the water. Even with a
broken collarbone, she thought she could swim. Just four days after
the accident she returned to the pool. Filled with painkillers, she
stroked with her good arm and kicked furiously. Her idea was that the
water held some sort of healing power. Don't swimmers swim? Friends
and teammates told her to stop, but she shouted, ''I'm all right!''
and kept kicking. The painkillers were stopped. She was not all
right. The pain set in. She was out of the water.
''They'd announced that the counselors were available, but I'd
said I was fine,'' she says. ''After a week, off the drugs, I said,
'Maybe I better go talk to these people.' ''
The best news involved Scott, the paralyzed freshman. She
underwent two operations in the early morning after the accident. She
had a crushed vertebra. In the first operation, doctors inserted two
metal rods along the ! back of her spine, then replaced the shattered
vertebra with pieces of bone grafted from her ribs and hip. The
second surgery was exploratory; they were hoping to find a blood clot
that might be causing her paralysis. There was none. Five days later,
trying to move her toes for about the billionth time, Scott suddenly
saw them move. Move?
Her mother, who was in the room, screamed. She said she had
witnessed a miracle. One month later, in a bulky turtle cast, Scott
walked into Welsh's office.

Do I mention the phone calls with Kristin Heath's parents in the
succeeding months, her parents giving updates and discussing their
worries? Do I mention meeting her for lunch at the Olympic trials in
Indianapolis in March, not knowing exactly what to say? She says that
in the days after the accident she heard from people she hadn't heard
from in the longest time, her roommates simply posting the number of
phone calls to be returned on the door every day after classes. Do I
mention that I probably was one of those people from whom she hadn't
heard nearly enough? Why do sad things sometimes have to arrive to
make us do good things? Do I mention this?

A bus was recently parked in the lot next to the Rolfs Aquatic
Center. This was a first step, a start toward the biggest first of
all -- this season's first bus trip to a meet. The bus simply sat
there. Want to inspect the bus? Want to sit inside for a bit, alone,
handling all of your feelings? Fine. The second step will be a round
trip to Elkhart, Ind. Not a long trip, maybe 40 minutes. Want to feel
those feelings? Fine. The third step will be the bus trip on Jan. 29
to a meet at Cleveland State, followed by a trip to Olean, N.Y., for
a meet at St. Bonaventure and then a return to South Bend.
''Anyone who wants to come on the bus can come,'' Coach Welsh
says. ''Anyone who doesn't want to come, that's fine, too, but there
won't be any arrangements made for any other kind of travel. If you
come, you come on the bus.''
This trip will involve both the men's and women's teams, but six
days later the women will take a trip alone to a meet in Ann Arbor at
the University of Michigan. Another dramatic first. The first two
meets are scheduled in the afternoon and morning to diminish chances
of driving on snow-covered roads in the night, and the team will stay
overnight at Michigan, then return the next day. Again, attendance
won't be required. If a swimmer is able to go, fine. If not, also
fine.
Four women swimmers are still on what Welsh calls ''injured
reserve,'' recovering from their injuries. Three swimmers have
decided not to swim anymore. Seven seniors graduated. The rest are
back, some of them swimming as fast as they ever did, some still
regaining their form. Ten freshmen and one sophomore have been added
to this emotional group.
Scott is an inspiration. Her early recovery, which was so fast
that she returned to the water within 10 weeks of the accident,
stalled. The rods in her back didn't provide enough support, and her
spine began to curve. The rods began to bend, eventually breaking
through the skin. She was told that during the summer she would need
additional surgery to replace the rods. The operation was described
to her as ''the second most dangerous operation there is, after
open-heart surgery.'' She wound up having not only that operation but
also two others within a 10-day period in June. The first operation
was to take out the bent rods. It lasted two hours. The second
operation, which took more than eight hours, was indeed dangerous,
requiring the temporary removal of several organs in order to insert
the new rods. The third operation, to further straighten Scott's
spine, also took more than eight hours.
''For a while it didn't look like I would be able to come back to
school for the fall semester, but this was where I wanted to be,''
she says. ''My team is here, my friends are here. This is where
people understand. We all went through the same things in different
ways. We lived it. This is where I should be.''
She is out of the water, covering the team for the school
newspaper. For a while she moved around campus on a golf cart, but
now she walks, for the exercise. She still is wearing a back brace,
which she hopes to shed soon. Her goal is to swim again, to compete.
There is no timetable. Welsh simply says that it will ''be the
greatest moment, the best, to see her on those blocks.'' As Scott
waits for her body to heal, she is working on her emotions. The
problems of her body had allowed her to postpone work on her
feelings.
''One of the first things the doctor said to me after the accident
was, 'From this moment, your life will be different,' '' she says.
''I look at myself, and he is absolutely right. Because of the brace,
I'm wearing clothes that are different from clothes I would have
worn. I am taking classes I probably never would have taken. I think
about everything differently. I'm ! much more aware, I guess, of
suffering. I see a story on television, something that happened to
someone. Before, I never would have thought twice about it. Now I
think about the person and about their family and all the people who
must be involved.''
The perceptions of everyone on the team have changed. How could
they not? The women have changed. The men, linked so closely to all
that has happened, have changed. Everyone has changed. Bohdan
remembers taking a theology course last year. An assignment in the
first week was to write a paper about death. At the end of the year
the teacher passed back the papers and asked the students to read
those early thoughts and see if they had changed. Bohdan felt as if a
different person had written her words.
''Athletes have such a sense of invincibility,'' Welsh says. ''To
be 20 years old and healthy is a beautiful thing. Then, to have a
situation like this . . . to realize that everything is so fragile,
that you can't count on tomorrow. It's such a shock.''
The shock is still a shock, but Welsh says the healing is
constant. He sees it daily in the increasing ability of his swimmers
to focus on their sport, in their closeness, in their determination.
The levels are different, to be sure, the 50 heads in 50 different
places, but the healing continues.
A few days after the team was selected this fall, it met in the
same room that once held all the flowers. The women wanted to include
the freshmen and at the same time to talk frankly with each other
about their thoughts about the accident. At first the meeting was
going to be only for swimmers, but they decided that since the
coaches also had been in the accident, they should be included.
The meeting lasted for hours. Everyone had a chance to talk. Some
swimmers simply told how badly they missed Beeler and Hipp. Some
talked about the need to visit Beeler's grave at the cemetery next to
the golf course. Williams described how she had become more emotional
about everything, how she had cried for a half hour one day because
she couldn't find a sock. Isn't that silly? Bohdan immediately said
she had done something similar. Heath said she was mad, not only
because her two teammates and friends were dead but also because
college had been interrupted, had been turned so much more solemn by
this experience. Heads nodded. Different feelings sometimes turned
out to be shared feelings.
''It was unbelievably exhausting,'' Welsh says. ''That is what
emotion does to you. But it was a terrific meeting.''
In the never-ending list of firsts, some hard ones are coming. The
anniversary of the accident this week is going to be tough, with a
memorial service and a lot of publicity. The first bus trips next
week are going to be tough. There will be lawsuits in the future --
at least two already have been filed against the bus company and
driver -- and courtrooms to visit, perhaps, and those trips also will
be tough. All of this somehow will be handled. What is the thought?
We are swimmers. We swim. The Notre Dame women will keep going
forward at their different speeds.
''If you see them every day, you are amazed,'' Welsh says. ''They
are terrific people.''
A quiet and thoughtful man, Welsh once was an English instructor.
For a while, as an assistant coach at Syracuse, he also taught a
freshman composition course. As he became more successful at
coaching, though, he had to make a choice. He could become a
full-time head coach or a part-time college teacher. He says he
picked coaching because it allows him to become more involved in his
students' lives. An English professor teaches a class and then
everyone goes home. A coach not only teaches a skill but also becomes
involved with the hopes and fears and strengths and weaknesses and
dreams of his people.
Welsh certainly has had a lot of that in the year since the
accident. More than he ever imagined possible. More than a dozen
coaches would see in a dozen lifetimes. He has done the best he
could. Everyone has.
''I am a believer that everything happens for a reason,'' Welsh
says. ''We all ask, 'Why was I sitting where I was on the bus? What
would have happened if I had been sitting somewhere else?' I think
there was a reason for everything that happened to each of us and for
everything that will happen to us. What that reason is, I do not
know. I keep waiting for it to appear. I do know this: It doesn't
come in the mail.''

Do I mention how many times I sat down to write this story, wrote
for a while and then stopped? I walked away for two and three days,
then came back to write some more and stopped again. I am used to the
impersonal report. I sometimes feel now as if I am writing a letter
to someone, describing a bad thing that happened to someone else we
both know and telling what happened next. Do I include my own
feelings? Are they part of this story? Should they be?

Kristin Heath is wearing her blue swimming parka as she goes to
lunch in a local delicatessen with a sports motif, Notre Dame
memorabilia everywhere. She always was a high-energy kid, always
lively and on the move, and a lot of that remains. She has a great
laugh and is pleased to have just celebrated her 21st birthday, which
allows her to summon a waiter and order a beer with her salad. The
accident has brought a seriousness to her in a hurry, thoughts about
the meaning of life and the unimportance of a lot of things she
previously thought were very important. This is not necessarily a bad
change, just a change, but it has arrived much too early.
''All of the counselors are going to write papers about all this
and become famous,'' she says. ''Do you know that after the accident,
most of us planned our own funerals? I'll bet everyone on the team
did. I'd say to my roommates, 'What kind of funeral do you think I'd
have? Do you think it would be big? How many people? Would you go?
How sad would you be?' They'd just look at me. They were terrific.
I'd just keep talking.''
There are many good days and some bad, and she can handle both.
For a while now she has been talking on the phone with Colleen Hipp's
mother. Colleen trained at Kristin's high school, Germantown Academy,
outside Philadelphia, and so they were friends even before college.
Before this season began Mrs. Hipp said she had some earrings to
distribute to the team. Colleen had been making them before the
accident. Mrs. Hipp had finished them. Kristin agreed to distribute
the earrings before the Catholic Championships in Providence.
''I didn't know how I felt when I heard about the idea, but then
the earrings arrived, and they were nice,'' she says. ''I felt good.
Then I saw the letter Mrs. Hipp sent along for me to read. I
practiced it and practiced it, and thought I was fine. Then, before
we went to Rhode Island, I gave out the earrings and had to read the
letter. Once I started, the practice didn't help at all. The tears
were just coming down my face.''
She laughs that great laugh about the sight of her with tears on
her face. Wouldn't you know it. Tears. Another moment met. She is the
greatest.