#TheHeartOfD3 Rose Hulman Institute of Technology - Colin Beach

Colin Beach was born a fighter – quite literally. Since he was six months old, Colin has been fighting for his life. Fast forward 20 years, and Colin continues to battle, with two bouts of cancer in the rearview mirror. A genetic mutation makes the threat of the disease a constant reality for the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology student-athlete.

With a cheerful, optimistic exterior, one would never know the challenges Colin has and continues to face, not even the Rose-Hulman swimming and diving coach.

“I wasn’t aware of Colin’s medical history until he came for his recruiting trip,” noted Rose-Hulman head swimming and diving coach Keith Crawford. “His mom mentioned that he had cancer and I recall saying I was impressed with all that he had accomplished, considering the challenges that he had faced.”

Challenges can be a bit of an understatement. At the age of 6 months, doctors discovered Colin had a rare cancer - bilateral hereditary retinoblastoma – that caused 11 tumors in his eyes, leaving him blind in his left eye. The cancer was a result of a genetic mutation, the absence of a gene called the RB1 gene which regulates cells and without it, makes Colin much more susceptible to cancer. Due to this mutation, Colin cannot undergo radiation because it can cause secondary cancers which his body can’t fight off. Instead Colin underwent rounds of chemotherapy and laser treatment. He has had more surgeries in his 20 years than most will face in their life – his family stopped counting at 30.

“I've been through a lot in my life,” said Colin. “Medically I've basically had cancer since I was born, and after years of treatment and I'm okay with it. I’m still the same person. I get to fight and win through the battles with cancer, but I can also do really well in other things.”

Colin does do really well – exceptionally well. At Rose-Hulman, Colin has a 4.0 cumulative GPA as a bio-chemistry major. He is an active leader on the team and turned in five top-six finishes in the conference championship in 2020. He is also an active member of several clubs and groups on campus.

“Colin is a great example of what being a Division III student athlete is meant to be,” shared Crawford. “He competes at a high level and he is one of our most vocal cheerleaders. He is a great student and has also been involved in other activities such as our school newspaper and his fraternity.”

Swimming has been a great outlet for Colin. Coming from an athletic family with two older brothers who played sports, Colin sought to find his niche. After a summer on the baseball diamond, Colin traded in his bat for the pool. He recalled people being impressed with his swimming ability during lessons, and at the age of nine, decided to jump in with both feet.
“I really grew to like swimming and I have met a lot of amazing people and some of my greatest friends,” Colin said. “It just started from there where it was something I did well in, and I slowly fell in love with it more and more over the years. Swimming was a way to keep me healthy with all the medical problems I had going on, but I would say that it was a bit of an escape. It is relaxing on its own, but it’s also relaxing to be with the people you have built friendships with.”

There have been a lot of people who have impacted Colin on his journey. His mother Maureen, who has always been his biggest cheerleader in life, fit right in to the team mom role. She volunteered on any team Colin swam with and continues to be pool side for all of his college meets.

Colin’s coaches have also played a big role in his swimming career. Both his club coach and high school swim coaches have been there to support and push him. Whether it was tailoring drills to meet Colin’s vision needs or challenging him to set his sights on swimming at Nationals, his coaches were always behind him.

“My club coach understood what I was going through,” Colin recalled. “He believed in me and thought I could do it. With my depth perception issues, he realized that instead of lifting my head to look at the wall, or trying to follow the bottom of the pool, we could put a bright orange cone at the flag pole, so when I am swimming freestyle, I can breathe to the side and I can see the cone and I can know where I am at so that I can know where to flip turn. He came up with that idea my sophomore year, and I still use that to this day. I have the same pair of cones that I bring to practices and meets at Rose-Hulman. He’s really helped me out in swimming.”

“My high school coach was really great at motivation and support,” said Colin. “My senior year I was able to be a captain for my team and be one of the major leaders. He was really great at pushing me into leadership roles.”

Those coaches had a great impact on Colin, and still motivate him moving forward.

“That’s one of my goals at Rose-Hulman is to be able to do the same thing that I did in high school,” Colin stated. “You get to grow along with the team, stay around the whole time and when it comes to the final year, you get to lead and show what you have learned the whole time.”

Whether it’s in the pool or not, there is no denying that Colin has a bright future ahead. His time in the hospital as a child is part of the driving force behind his passion for biochemistry. Colin shared at a young age he had a desire to develop a better needle after countless IVs and blood draws that left him wanting to help other children. That desire to improve other cancer patients experiences, his optimism, and his passion for math and science have proven to be the right combination for an impactful future.

“Even though the HCAC may not be one of the bigger swimming conferences, and even though we’re Division III it’s still a big deal,” Colin said. “It’s an honor to swim for a college, and it’s an additional supplement to what I am doing. It’s a great addition to my college experience. I’ll be able to leave my name, whether it be the record book, or just the legacy that is there.”

The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) is proud to be #TheHeartOfD3, and share stories of how student athletes exemplify the mission of the NCAA Division III: Discover, Develop, Dedicate.