In mid-January, teams from around the Horizon League found themselves biting into limes to support one of their own swimmers. Madisen Tretter, a junior breaststroker from Cleveland State University, was diagnosed with Lyme disease in September 2015.
“Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to people and animals by the bite of an infected tick,” Tretter explained. “Lyme is a multi-systemic disease that can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart. Lyme Disease is often called ‘The Great Imitator’ because it mimics symptoms of other diseases such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), MS (multiple sclerosis) and Alzheimer’s, often causing a misdiagnosis.”
The diagnosis took a major toll on Tretter’s training, academic and personal life. Tretter has not been able to swim since October 17 and going from working out 20 hours a week to doing nothing can be a shock to the body. Getting to classes also seemed to very difficult for Tretter. Instead of making the Dean’s list like Tretter was used to, she was happy to be passing classes. She also had to enroll in online classes for the spring semester.
“I have an extremely hard time going anywhere,” Tretter said. “I spend most of my time laying around my apartment or at home in Pennsylvania. Laying on my couch in my apartment and going to bed at 10 p.m. wasn’t exactly how I had planned my 21st birthday!”
CSU teammates surprised Tretter with a video called “The Lyme Disease Challenge” which brings awareness to Lyme Disease, supports Tretter, and involves the team “taking a bite out of Lyme Disease” by biting into a slice of a lime.
“We believe that Madisen benefits from this by seeing how much support she has behind her,” teammate Tara Vermandere said. “She also loves the awareness that it brings to the disease; in hope that one day there will be better treatment options.”
Tretter had heard of the Lyme Disease Challenge, but had no idea that her team would surprise her with a video of their own. On January 17, Tretter’s phone started to blow up with notifications.
“I didn’t even get through the whole video because I was running downstairs to see if my mom had seen Facebook,” Tretter said. “I watched it again and I cried. I was so thankful that they would take the time away from their training trip to do that for me, it was a complete surprise.”
The team challenged other teams in the Horizon League to accept the Lyme Disease Challenge. Vermandere and Tretter were hesitant and weren’t sure if the teams would accept. But one by one, responses came in. Oakland University was the first to respond and challenged their own volleyball team, spreading awareness to different sports and to the University of Illinois Chicago. Valparaiso accepted and challenged Green Bay Swimming and Diving and Rose Hulman Institute of Technology Swimming and Diving, spreading awareness to other conferences.
“Even my family started taking the Lyme Challenge and posting their videos on Facebook,” Tretter said. “I felt extremely thankful. It means so much to me that all of these teams were standing behind me and helping to spread awareness of this nasty disease that does not get much funding and is extremely overlooked.”
The videos began getting thousands of views, more than anyone had anticipated.
“We never expected the popularity of the video to reach that height,” Vermandere said. “We are grateful that so many people have viewed the video, donated, and taken the time to “take a bite out of Lyme disease.” Their acceptance of the challenge has also broadened the awareness more than we ever thought possible.”
Tretter is extremely thankful for everyone who has participated in the Lyme Disease Challenge. According to Tretter this is an accurate representation for how close knit the swimming community can be.
“Having so many people take the time to show their support means the world to me,” Tretter said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed each video. On days I don’t know how I will keep going, I always have those to pull up to show me how many people are rooting for me to beat it. I have also gotten many messages from people in Lyme disease support groups telling me how lucky I am to have so many people cheering me on and how thankful they are that this is helping spread awareness. I think this is just a small example of how tight and supportive the swimming community is, and for that I am incredibly thankful.”