The Swim Fan

Juneau-Douglas High School senior Addie Gonwa Ramonda first became aware of the importance of her biggest swim fan when she was nine.


Her mother Terry brought her lunch to Augustus Brown Pool.

“She was the car pool,” Addie said. “She would drop us off and pick us up. And she always brought me breakfast to morning practices.”

A typical swim parent is responsible for a lot.

Early morning practices, housing and hosting, and extra nutritional knowledge… basically a parent times ten.

For Terry Gonwa, diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2001 when Addie was five years old, a hectic schedule of job and family life would be challenged by chemotherapy, yet the swim fan still was on hand.

“She got breast cancer when I was five and it went away,” Addie said. “Then it came back when I was 12 and it was kind of low key, unless you knew her.”

Addie started swimming because her best friend Hannah Marx did.

“I wanted to be like her so I went and did it too,” Addie said. “And my mom would push me to go because she knew if I didn’t go I would regret it. My mom was always one step ahead.”

At Glacier Swim Club practices she met life-long friends and teammates Haley Mertz, Dakota Isaak, Ciera Kelly and Joley Hodgson (Service High) and they continued to encourage her to swim.

“Especially Haley,” Addie said. “We went to different schools and swimming was when we got to hang out. My mother could not keep us quiet.”

The swim fan would shuttle Addie to and from Auke Bay Elementary and sometimes Haley to and from Gastineau.

The breaststroke became Addie’s favorite event. She didn’t understand the cancer her swim fan battled but attended the “Beat the Odds” events.

“I think it was just my best stroke,” Addie said. “I just liked it and not a lot of people did, and I kind of liked that.”

Addie went to Floyd Dryden and Haley to Dzantik’i Heeni and their car pool continued.

The swim fan was ever prouder in 2008.

“In seventh grade I moved up in age groups,” Addie said. “I started coming to more practices and pushed my self harder and improved quite a bit. I think I got Most Improved that year; it was then I decided that was what I wanted to do. My mom was excited for me.”

The swim fan was still involved in her work and family and outsiders didn’t know she was ill.

“Unless you knew her, you wouldn’t have really known,” Addie said.

Addie was a freshmen when she took swimming even more serious.

“I just saw the older kids loved competing,” Addie said. “I wanted that feeling of winning too.”

That feeling did not come a lot but it was superseded by workouts and her swim fan.

“I liked working hard and being able to get out of the pool and feeling proud of yourself for what you just did,” Addie said. “My mom would tell me to give it all I got and to believe in myself. She was encouraging.”

The swim fan was also understanding.

Addie took last season off and the swim fan knew a lesson would come of that.

“She didn’t want to influence the decision,” Addie said. “She would hint I would regret it and in the end I did. I swam high school but not club. It was just a lot. I felt like I didn’t have enough energy to go through the whole season.”

The biggest achievement in Addie’s swimming career was this senior season.

“Just being able to finish the season and staying focused,” Addie said. “Just trying to want to come to practice every day and John (Wray) was our coach, and he is tough.”

In April the swim fan’s cancer came back fast and hard. “She told me my grandma was coming to visit,” Addie said. “I thought it was just to surprise us.”

Returning from a run, Addie was told by her swim fan that her grandmother was there as a care provider.

“She started crying,” Addie said. “And I put the pieces together.”

A month is not a lot of time to train. Not for sports and definitely not for the end of a life.

“She knew swimming was a stress relief for me,” Addie said. “I had started going back to swimming in March and I know she was happy I was back in the water.”

Terry Gonwa passed away from her bout with cancer on May 21.

“For two weeks she was not really there,” Addie said. “The cancer had developed into her brain. The last two days she would just sleep. We were all in the room when it happened.”

There was relief. The amount of pain being endured could do no harm. The swim fans spirit would live again.

“Every time I get in the pool or when there is something hard I think of her,” Addie said. “It always helps me get through workouts. I think she is with me. I feel like I can imagine the things she would say. She would say random things at times that made me laugh.”

The swim fan was a youth services employee, a elementary school counselor, a high school drug and alcohol counselor, a wife and a mother, among other things.

“This last year she stayed home to be with us,” Addie said. “She taught me to view the bigger picture of things. To look past what is going on right now and to gaze farther down the road.”

Addie hopes to attend Boise State University and study nursing.

“She helped me a lot,” Addie said. “We looked at colleges and nursing programs together and she was really into it. She was super excited about it and I want to just go there now. I want to work with kids. I have been around it my whole life. I know what it is like to be in the middle of it. Seeing my mom go through cancer I feel that no one should have to deal with that, especially a kid.”

Last Friday Addie knew she would make the finals in the 200 IM but she was concentrating on making state in the 100 Back all season. Her prelims were not great.

“I don’t know what happened,” Addie said. “I had a really bad race.”

She did not make the Saturday finals, the first time for the past two years.

“It was really disappointing,” Addie said. “I did not give up but I was basically over the meet then. I went to finals with not the best mind.”

She is an alternate on the state roster. Chances are good she will not swim.

“The chances are a little far off,” Addie said. “But I like that people view me as a leader of the team and someone to go to. I kind of have the motherly side on the team.

A trait her swim fan gave to her.

“I think because my mom passed in May I kind of act more grown up,” Addie said. “I just like to comfort the girls on the team and be there for them.”

When the race in life was ending, Addie would sit in the room with her mother and talk.

“I felt like she was able to hear me,” Addie said. “There were a lot of things I regret about her and will miss, but I know that I was there for her in the end. I feel like that helps. I feel like I was strong and encouraging for her.”

Like Addie’s swim fan was for her.


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