Diagnosed with MS, Willliamsburg resident swims one million yards in 2016

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Betsy Lavin, a life-long resident of Willliamsburg who has been swimming for WAC since she was a little girl, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) a few years ago. She set the goal of swimming one million yards last January as part of a New Year’s resolution. (Courtesy Welby Whiting Fairlie)
Betsy Lavin, a life-long resident of Willliamsburg, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) a few years ago. She set the goal of swimming one million yards last January as part of a New Year’s resolution. (Courtesy Welby Whiting Fairlie)

Cheers and chants of “Bet-Sy. Bet-Sy. Bet-Sy” rang out from the pool Tuesday at Eastern State Hospital, where Williamsburg Aquatic Club (WAC) members gathered to support WAC coach Betsy Lavin, who swam the final one hundred yards of a one million-yard goal for 2016.

Lavin, a life-long resident of Willliamsburg who has been swimming for WAC since she was a little girl, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) a few years ago. She set the goal of swimming one million yards last January as part of a New Year’s resolution.

“I wanted to do something positive,” she said. “I wanted my resolution to be about a goal to do something instead of being about not doing something. That’s how it all started.”

Early in the year, Lavin averaged roughly 90,000 yards per month, but over the summer, health issues related to her MS slowed her down.

“When I was first diagnosed with MS, I was in denial,” recalled Lavin, who once also enjoyed running, but had to quit due to her condition. “There were some days where I just wanted to give up, but this goal has really motivated me. I feel so much better when I am moving and exercising, and I am so thankful that I can swim.”

Lavin, pictured with her family, swims six days a week. Typically, she swims at the local YMCA. (Brandy Centolanza/WYDaily)
Lavin, pictured with her family, swims six days a week. (Brandy Centolanza/WYDaily)

Lavin swims six days a week. Typically, she swims at the local YMCA, although she did swim at an outdoor pool in November in Maryland in order to get in extra yards.

“Reaching this goal is very surreal,” she said.

One million yards certainly is no small feat, especially for someone who once was afraid to put her head in the water when she first began swimming as a child.

When she started with WAC, Lavin would spend most of her time watching the other swimmers instead of participating until “one day I just decided I was going to do it, and I put my head under the water in the bath tub,” Lavin said. “Coach Harold Baker was the most patient coach, and now he is coaching my kids. This team is very, very special to me, and I am very lucky to be coaching and having my kids swimming for Harold.”

Lavin spent ten years swimming for WAC and also swam for the Kingswood Klams. She swam for a year at the College of William & Mary, and then started coaching after being sidelined following an injury.

Since December 9th, Lavin has swum 82,000 yards in order to reach the one million mark by year’s end. (Courtesy Welby Whiting Fairlie)
Since Dec. 9, Lavin has swum 82,000 yards in order to reach the one million mark by year’s end. (Courtesy Welby Whiting Fairlie)

Since Dec. 9, Lavin has swum 82,000 yards in order to reach the one million mark by year’s end. By her side in the pool when she reached the achievement were her husband and three kids, along with more than three dozen WAC members.

“I love coaching, and I love all the kids,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a very family-like atmosphere here.”

It was an emotional day for Lavin, who fought back tears as she jumped into the pool.

“I am never going to stop swimming, although I am taking tomorrow off,” Lavin said with a laugh. “Swimming is what is keeping me going, both mentally and physically. When I am in the water, I don’t feel like a sick person. I just feel like myself.”

Read more profiles of local residents in WYDaily’s section In Our Hometown