Sideline Stories "When he passed away at the end of my freshman year, though, the sports I had always played felt different. I missed my dad’s towering presence and booming voice. I needed a fresh start.."

This is Sideline Stories. A platform where NE10 student-athletes can share their collegiate experiences in an unfiltered environment - using their voices to promote growth and positive change in our league and overall in NCAA Division II athletics.

Ellie Sommers, a sophomore on the Le Moyne swimming & diving team, has managed to work through tragedy in her life and has used that adversity to achieve her goals at a high level. Swimming became her passion at a time when she needed it most. She shares her thoughts in this edition of Sideline Stories:

Le Moyne swimming & diving team at the 2019 NE10 Championships.

28.56. That was the number I saw as I turned to look up at the scoreboard following what was, at that time during my junior year of high school, the fastest 50 freestyle of my life. But I wasn’t happy. I was absolutely crushed.

28.50 was the number I needed to qualify for Sectionals, and I missed that time by six hundredths of a second. I couldn’t get over it. 0.06 seconds consists of mere centimeters of water that I needed to get through faster. As I swam my cool down lap, tears filled my eyes. I told myself, “keep it together”, and I heard my dad’s voice in my head saying, “there’s no crying in baseball.”

That slogan was one of my dad’s trademark expressions, and even though swimming is obviously much different than baseball, that quote became ingrained in me and my three siblings. My dad was not just my father, he was my very first coach, my mentor, my catcher in softball, my defender on the basketball court and on the field hockey field, my workout buddy, and my biggest fan. My dad never knew me to be a swimmer, which is rather ironic given that swimming is the sport I chose to pursue at the collegiate level.

Ellie with her father, who passed away when she was a student at Fayetteville-Manlius High School.

In the span of the summer before my freshman year of high school, my family’s world was flipped on its axis and torn apart. My six-foot-six-inch dad, as healthy and athletic as ever at the young age of 48, was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer that had already metastasized to other parts of his body. After a heroic, nine-month long fight for his life, my dad’s suffering ended and he went to Heaven.

On top of my family’s cancer marathon, my younger sister and I were diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Gaucher Disease. While this disorder does not significantly impact our everyday life, we both need to receive intravenous infusions twice a month indefinitely in order to prevent long term complications.

We had to learn how to address this disorder with our extended family members, our friends, and our teachers and coaches. Very few people had ever heard of Gaucher Disease, so it was difficult to educate them about it without drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves. And what’s more, I broke my foot at basketball camp and had surgery, forcing me to start my high school career on crutches. To think that this all happened during a single summer is still hard to wrap my head around. I guess the old adage is accurate, bad things really do come in threes.

Sommers in Tuscany (left) and overlooking Vatican City in Rome while studying abroad.

Everything in my life changed instantly that summer, but my dad insisted that my two brothers, sister and I maintain our regular activities. I went to school every day and I pushed myself harder in the classroom and on the court and the field than ever before to make my dad proud. When he passed away at the end of my freshman year, though, the sports I had always played felt different. I missed my dad’s towering presence and booming voice. I needed a fresh start.

My burning desire for something new led me to join the varsity swim team in tenth grade. I had never swum competitively before, but I knew a few girls on the team and decided to go for it. I will forever be grateful that my high school coach gave me the opportunity to swim despite not having any prior experience. I had no idea what I was getting into.

After experiencing a full first week of practices, I was astounded at how hard the sport of swimming is. It was difficult to fathom how fast some of my teammates were, how long they could hold their breath, and how refined their technique was. While I tried my best that first season, my main goals were to get back into shape and to have fun. Three months later, that mission was accomplished, and I came back for my junior year with real dreams and aspirations to improve.

Sommers (middle) with teammates at NE10 Championships back in February.

I did get better, but not as quickly as I wished. That was the year I missed the Sectionals cut time, and I will never forget how disappointed and frustrated I felt after not qualifying. I spent a few days feeling sorry for myself, and then I decided that I wanted to do this. I really wanted to do this - to swim - and I decided right then and there that that wasn’t even going to be enough. I wanted to be fast. I worked my butt off and got faster, and I qualified for Sectionals my senior year.

After my third and last varsity season, I had this all-encompassing feeling that my swimming career could not end there. I still had so much gas in the tank and so much untapped potential. I had successfully molded my past struggles into an “adversity advantage”, and the thought of my athletic career ending in high school broke my heart.

Sommers enters her sophomore season at Le Moyne in 2019-20.

I am eternally grateful that Le Moyne College gave me the chance to further my academic and athletic career as a swimmer. I love the challenge that each workout provides, and I especially love the camaraderie that my teammates and I share every day.

Le Moyne gave Sommers the chance to pursue her dream.

Although I initially viewed my late introduction to swimming as a disadvantage, now I feel that it has only made me hungrier to improve. I am constantly working toward my goals of getting faster, and my underdog mindset is what drives me every day at practice.

One of my favorite quotes by Michael Phelps says, “With hard work, with belief, and with confidence and trust in yourself and those around you, there are no limits.”

I firmly believe that fast times, difficult wins, and NE10 and NCAA championships are possible if we play hungry every time we step on the field, the track, the court, or dive into the pool. We’ll never know how far we can go until we start pushing our own buttons, and when we do, the results will truly be limitless.

-Ellie Sommers

Sommers with teammates at Le Moyne's 2018-19 athletic ceremony.


Le Moyne Athletics