Eureka swimmers rally around team captain in personal fight
By: Warren Mayes
It was an emotional day recently for Eureka boys swimming coach Sharon Wasson and her Wildcats.
One of their own – senior Dean Sindel – had been missing. Instead of swimming in the pool working to get better in the breaststroke, Sindel was in Children’s Hospital for 40 days. Sindel has leukemia and had been getting treatments for the dreaded disease.
The day before Sindel returned to school, Eureka was swimming the Summit Quad. Wasson said the boys were determined to win that event and share their success with Sindel the next day at school.
This story has a happy ending.
Eureka won the Summit Quad. The Wildcats finished with 671 points to easily outdistance Parkway North (535), Summit (502) and Webster Groves (264).
“We wanted to win that for Dean and meet every goal we set up for that meet,” Wasson said.
The scene at school was one Wasson will not soon forget.
“It was standing (swimming) ovations, excitement and genuine caring,” Wasson said. “It was a pretty big milestone.”
The Wildcats presented Sindel a plaque for winning the invitational.
“They made him a gift basket full of goodies from the overwhelming generosity of the best parents and kids on the planet,” Wasson said.
No doubt, this will encourage and inspire the Wildcats for the rest of the year.
“Everything we win, we will give to Dean,” Wasson said. “We will spend the year doing everything we can for him.”
His condition will not enable Sindel to return to swimming, but he will continue to be a big part of the team.
“Dean’s been on my team for the last year four years,” Wasson said. “He is a team captain this year. He’s a 4.2 (grade point average) student. He’s one of the nicest kids you’d ever want to meet.
“Dean is the perfect student. He is a hard worker; he always has straight A’s. He never complains, never stops smiling, is polite and kind to everyone. He’s the kind of kid that leads the Veterans Day celebrations. Everyone respects him. If you would wrap him up, he’s be a perfect student.”
Winning the Summit Quad was important to the Wildcats.
Stephen Tresslar qualified for state in the backstroke with a time of 56.91 seconds. In the 50 free, Tresslar qualified for state with a winning time of 22.64. Nick Seidel was right behind him in 22.65 and he qualified for state as well. The medley relay team won in 1 minute, 43.79 seconds.
“We had many more outstanding swims,” Wasson said about her Wildcats in the meet. “Afterward, there was elation, smiles (and) reflection. All emotions wrapped up in one.”
Wasson said she, too, was caught up in the scene.
“I was joyful, proud and my heart was just bursting knowing we could give Dean the No. 1 plaque,” Wasson said.
It was this past spring when Sindel got sick – a reoccurrence of his previous battle with leukemia.
“He had flu-like symptoms, and keep in mind, he was just diagnosed as leukemia/cancer free,” Wasson said. “His mom and dad; myself; the weightlifting coach, Tom Sumner, who we now call Dr. Sumner; just didn’t think he looked good. Tom said to me, ‘I think he is sick again … because of his color.’
“He had lost weight but his mom was told, ‘virus and flu, let it run it’s course.’ She, having mom instincts, insisted he be checked. And sure enough the bad news came. The leukemia had returned. It was devastating to all.”
To help out, the swim team sold shirts and raised $2,700 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through sales to the school and community.
“The Eureka community is the best,” Wasson said.
It wasn’t the first time Sindel had received the support of the community.
When he was 14, he got a wish granted when Total Hockey teamed up with Make-A-Wish Foundation to help grant him his wish of a lifetime. He traveled with his parents to Pittsburgh, to meet his hockey idol and fellow cancer survivor, Mario Lemieux.
“He really inspired me while I was having my treatments, because he is a cancer survivor, too. He gave me hope that I could beat it like him,” Sindel said of Lemieux.
To enhance this wish and make the experience even more remarkable and memorable for the teen, Total Hockey donated a pair of customized Nike Bauer Vapor XXXX skates so he could skate on the ice with Lemieux. The former NHL player and current principal owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins spent the day with Sindel and showed him a few tricks on the ice, including a variety of shooting and skating drills.
“It was completely unbelievable. I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything. It was just a dream come true,” Sindel said.
The Sindels spent the evening at the Pittsburgh Penguins game and the entire stadium saw video footage recapping Dean’s day with Mario.
Sindel beat the disease once and everyone is confident he will prevail again.
Seeing him come back to school puts everything in perspective for his teammates and coach.
“You realize winning and losing are not significant in the scheme of things,” Wasson said. “Having a purpose and a goal to drive you is what counts and everything else should fall into place.”
The Wildcats have a new motto for the rest of the season. Wasson said it is “Go Bic or Go Home” after shaving their heads in honor of Sindel.