Persons, places and things: Swimmer’s memory lives on in pool challenge


By Barb Arland-Fye

Beth Calabotta loved swimming, excelled at the sport and turned to it during her arduous duel with metastatic cancer. Two and a half years after her death, family, friends and her former high school swim coach are preparing for the third annual Beth Calabotta Swim Challenge on Aug. 31 at Davenport West High School.

Swim coach Ruth Johnson, kneeling, congratulates women who competed in the annual Beth Calabotta Swim Challenge in this file photo. This year’s swim challenge is Aug. 31.

I did not know Beth, a stand-out swimmer for Davenport West High School (Class of 1985), who died of metastatic cancer in March 2017.
But I share her passion for swimming and her desire to eradicate metastatic cancer and to ease the burden for others enduring this disease. I swam in the first fundraising challenge named in Beth’s honor. Her parents, Mary Jo and Bob Godwin, and I belong to the same parish, Our Lady of the River in LeClaire.

First diagnosed with metastatic cancer in 2008, Beth continued to work at Monsanto Co. in St. Louis as a gifted chemical engineer while dealing with chemotherapy, hair loss and neuropathy. The disease reoccurred in 2015, Mary Jo said.


During medical procedures, such as CT scans, Beth measured time in decades of the rosary. And when Mary Jo entered Beth’s room, her daughter calculated appropriate hand-washing time as one recitation of the “Our Father,” her mother remembers with humor in her voice.
Mary Jo believes Beth lived her faith by reaching out to others, being a companion on the journey for those dealing with cancer. “She supported and mentored so many people. She would take a day off of work and fly to Minneapolis (to help someone).” At family reunions, she was the go-to person to talk with about a cancer diagnosis. Via social media she kept track of people newly diagnosed with cancer and connected with them. “She had a kind heart,” Mary Jo said.

Former high school swim coach Ruth Johnson, now 85 and still a competitive swimmer, accepted Beth’s invitation to swim in a cancer fundraising event in Quincy, Ill. Beth lived there with her husband and concentrated on fighting cancer, hers and others. Then and now, the money goes to the nonprofit Cancer Couch Foundation (www.thecancercouch. com) to raise money for research and to help cover compassionate care expenses for metastatic cancer patients.

“She did an awesome job of giving of herself her entire life,” said Ruth, a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. “As she got into the throes of the illness, I think she redoubled her efforts in helping others.”

Even as she struggled physically, Beth encouraged those with cancer to stay as active as possible. Swimming provides a sense of peace, especially when combined with prayer for God’s blessings and to do God’s will. “That is the great part of the peace you end up with when you swim,” Ruth said.

Swim challenge publicist Norm Bower of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport often swims where I do, the Davenport Family YMCA. He made a “dry-land request” asking me to promote the Beth Calabotta Swim Challenge.

“We have the pool for five hours and are hoping a lot of swimmers will swim with us, donate at least $25 per person to the Cancer Couch Foundation, and support this very important cause,” he said.

Participants may complete a one-mile or half-mile swim or do water walking or “aquacise” and are encouraged to get lap sponsors to help with fundraising. Matching grants from the Cancer Couch Foundation, two major cancer research centers and Beth’s parents multiply donations. The 2018 local challenge raised more than $20,000, Norm said.

To make a tax-deductible donation or to register for the event, visit: and find the application on the list of upcoming events. You may also contact Ruth at (563) 210-5316; via e-mail at; or send donations made out to Cancer Couch Foundation to Ruth at 2627 Middle Rd., Davenport, IA, 52803.

In the Quad Cities, Genesis Health Services Foundation (GHSF) is partnering with swim challenge organizers to distribute 10 percent of all the money raised at the event to metastatic cancer patients who need services such as babysitting during treatment, wigs, clothing and health-care related equipment.

I hope to see you at the pool!

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at

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