Haley Scott DeMaria

Archive for January, 2009


January 24th is a date that catches my ear whenever I hear it. I remember as a high school teacher, reading a college essay that begin, “Everything changed on January 24th…”  She was talking about the day her parents told her their family was moving from Chicago to Phoenix, but of course I read the essay with an emotional and heavy heart.

As I mentioned before, today is the 17th anniversary of the Notre Dame women’s swim team bus accident. 17 years ago, the Notre Dame family lost two wonderful young women: Meghan Beeler and Colleen Hipp. 17 years ago, I gained two guardian angels who still guide me.

I also wrote yesterday that I never know what today – the anniversary – will bring. This year was no different. I had planned a day with my family. I hoped the flowers would arrive as they always do on the 24th (and they are always emotionally appreciated). I knew I would wake up to an e-mail from my mom – who would stay up until 11:38 p.m. Arizona time – the exact time her life changed when she was woken up by the phone call from my teammate, Cyndi, 17 years ago. But this morning brought something different as well; a surprise delivered through the blessing of the internet.

I received an e-mail from a friend of Colleen Hipp’s. She had lived in the same dorm as Colleen at Notre Dame, and she had had dinner with Colleen’s sister 17 years ago last night, as they waited for Colleen to return from our swim meet at Northwestern in Chicago. Reading my book, she said, ended years of bitterness and anger. She had written in remembrance to thank me for allowing her to let go, for helping her to heal.

I am always touched by the e-mails I receive from readers. This one, certainly and especially, touched me personally and with an emotion I can not describe. As I read her recollections and about what she experienced that night 17 years ago, I was reminded how far-reaching the swim team bus accident was. How far-reaching all tragedies are. They do not just affect those involved; they affect everyone who knows someone – who knows someone – who was involved. And when we can turn that ripple effect to healing and strength, we can all heal. Even 17 years later.

Thank you, everyone, for the love and prayers you sent our way today. We all felt it!

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    Today is my oldest son’s 7th birthday. He was born on January 23, 2002. The following day, January 24, 2002, was the ten year anniversary of my bus accident.

    January 24th is – to quote Franklin D. Roosevelt – a day that will live in infamy. At least in the hearts of the lives affected. None of us on the bus that night will let this Saturday pass without thinking about that night, our teammates lost, and each other.

    January 24th has meant different things to me over the years. The first year – the first anniversary – brought a dichotomy of sadness and joy. I was sad that there was an anniversary at all; I still wished the accident had not happened. But I was also joyful and celebrating the year that was ending: a year of five surgeries and a tremendous amount of pain. I had survived the worst year of my life; and I celebrated its end.

    Over the following 9 or ten years, January 24th – and the week leading up to it – brought different emotions at different times. And I never knew what was coming. There were some years when this week was consumed with sadness and tears. And some years the 24th would come and go with honoring thoughts and memories, but with a more distant sadness. But then the tears would return the following year. I never knew what to expect. I only knew to be open to whatever I needed to feel that day, to heal.

    Then, seven years ago this week, I was awaiting the birth of my first child. A child that was not known to be in my future. He was born not on the 24th, when he was due, but on the 23rd, thankfully. Finally.  Now the week leading up to the anniversary of our bus accident is filled with plans for a birthday party, deciding where to go for a birthday dinner, and what kind of cake to have. It is a happy time in our house. Something to look forward to, something to celebrate at the end of January.

    What does that mean for tomorrow? I still don’t know. I never do. But I’ll let you know.

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    I had the good fortune of watching the inauguration festivities yesterday with my two sons at their school. Their school invited families to attend a red, white and blue parade and celebration to watch the swearing in of our 44th president. Not only did we get to witness this historic event with our children, but with the school family at large. That is the essence of what community is all about. The school got it right.

    The country got it right too. No matter for whom you voted (or if you chose to abstain), you could not watch the inaugaration yesterday and not be inspired and filled with hope. What a gift to share that with the American people in such a huge way, and with the world as well.

    This is my same goal, on a smaller scale: to inspire and share hope one-on-one with each reader.

    Last night I ended a day-long celebration by meeting with the St. James book club. I was exhausted, but immediately re-energized with the hope that filled the room, with the love we all share for our families as we talked through the complex relationships of the book, and with the gratitude they shared with me for writing the story. I was inspired all day.

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    This particular week has always been a difficult one for me. At least for the past 17 years it has been a difficult week for me. This Saturday, January 24, is the 17th anniversary of my bus accident.

    But there are celebrations this week as well, and I will be blogging often – so check back!

    While I have never taken – nor will make – a political statement on this site, this week is historic for our country. I am sure you have heard that said before. On Tuesday, I, as a proud American and former History teacher, will watch Mr. Obama’s inauguration with both my boys. They don’t quite understand the significance. But what I hope to share with them is this:

    We live in a great country, a country of opportunity. Any peaceful change of power is historic. We have the right to vote and the right to our opinion. And then we have the duty to support and encourage whomever is elected. That’s the American way.

    I wish our new President all the best. GOD BLESS AMERICA!

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    It was a quick trip, but I returned “home” from South Bend – my “home” in other ways.

    When I was a freshman at Notre Dame – before the bus accident – it took some time to adjust to being away from home (at the time my home was Phoenix, Arizona).  I enjoyed Notre Dame, but it was new and exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. One weekend in November 1991, the swim team traveled to Chicago to swim three meets in just over 24 hours. It was brutal. We called it our “Illinois Hell Weekend.” Driving back to South Bend after the meets, I caught a glimpse of the Golden Dome as we neared campus, and my first thought was one of relief, “We’re home.”
    That was a defining moment for me. It took me to leave, even briefly – and then return – to realize that Notre Dame had become my home.

    I think that is true for a lot of people, in different ways with different locations. For me, South Bend is one of those locations. I can return at any time and feel that same comfort and familiarity that I did as a student. The campus has changed, and many of the people have changed as well. But no matter what the differences, there is no place like home.

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    This morning I flew to South Bend to spend some time at Notre Dame. I was hoping to spend the entire weekend, but tomorrow is my husband’s birthday and I think I should head home for that. Of course, family comes first.

    It might seem strange to choose South Bend as a destination of choice in January, but Notre Dame is family too. The Irish Hockey team is ranked #1 in the country. And as a member of the Board of Directors of the Notre Dame Monogram Club, I am embarrassed to say that I have never attended a Notre Dame hockey game. That will change tonight.

    Before then, however, I had the opportunity to do something I enjoy almost as much as a Notre Dame sporting event: speak to a group of student-athletes.

    Earlier this week, I was contacted by the swim coach at Marian High School, a Catholic high school in nearby Mishawaka, Indiana. “Could you possibly come talk to my team?” Of course I can!

    It was intended to be a casual meeting – and it was. But I couldn’t help myself and I spent most of my flight this morning tweaking my power point presentation.  Pictures make the story more real. Photographs of physical therapy, of my teammates, of my hospital stay. On screen, I am 18 years old: their age. In person, I am old to them – a different generation. But when I can connect with them as a teenager, the story is more powerful and more relevant in their lives.

    After my presentation, a swimmer’s mom came up to me with tears in her eyes. “I prayed for you,” she said. That was worth the trip. I came to inspire high school students. But here I was touching the life of an adult, and myself. How often do we get to see the fruits of our prayers? And how often do we get the chance to thank someone – a stranger – who prayed for us? I thought that was pretty cool.

    Thank you Marian High School!


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  • HAPPY 2009!

    May you find inspiration in your lives in the New Year – and may we all Share the Inspiration!

    Happy New Year! 

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