Cats help raise funds and awareness


The Women’s Swimming and Diving team participated in a charitable 5k walk this past Saturday in an effort to raise money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The seventh annual NAMIWalk took place at Waterfront Park and hosted a number of teamswalking to raise both money and awareness for an issue that afflicts over 60 million Americans a year, according to NAMI’s website.

“We certainly hope that the funds we raise can help NAMI of Vermont with their goals of building better lives for those affected by mental illness,” associate head coach Jen Fenton-Cournoyer said.

Fenton-Cournouyer noted that the team had reached its target goal of $2,500 days before the event took place. Their final donations totaled over $3,000.

This was the inaugural year for the team’s involvement with NAMI. From the team’s donation page to their statements on the walk, the team’s goal is clear: to keep mental illness from becoming an ‘invisible disability.’

“We hope to bring more awareness to mental illness and how it does affect everyone somehow,” senior Taylor Slone said. “Even though people cannot see mental illness, it is there.”

The team walked in the memory of Jared Dion, Fenton-Cournoyer said. Jared was the son of University Athletics’ administrative assistant Dee Dion and her husband Peter.

Jared Dion passed away at the age of 33 last year. Despite suffering from depression and bipolar disorder, Dion was a three-sport athlete at Winooski High School and went on to work for IBM after his education, according to the Burlington Free Press.

“Dee and Peter are wonderful supporters of our program,” Fenton-Cournoyer said. “We want to see a cure or at least a better way to manage bipolar disorder and depression.”

NAMI advocates for the same. Since 1979, the organization has been at the forefront of the campaign for improved mental illness policy.

“NAMI awareness efforts have successfully addressed the stigma of mental illness, ensuring the decrease of barriers to treatment and recovery,” says their website. “Together with our grassroots volunteers, we work every day to provide help and hope to millions of Americans.”

The organization’s reach is expansive, with NAMIWalks being held in over 40 states this year. According to their Annual Report, NAMI generated over $10 million in revenue in 2012.

This is the seventh year that Burlington has hosted a NAMIWalk, and the city has seemingly started a long-lasting relationship with the organization. UVM’s swimming and diving team hopes to follow suit.

“This is our first year but we hope to make it a standing tradition,” said Fenton-Cournoyer.

While principally concerned with helping the cause, the team’s participation in the walk serves as a way for the team to bring them closer in the weeks leading up their season opener, according to Slone.

The team finished their 2012-2013 season with a 9-5 record and a third place finish at the America East Championships. With a roster predominantly comprised of underclassmen, events such as the NAMIWalk will be important to build a sense of cohesiveness while raising awareness for a good cause.

“The walk on Saturday is a great event for our team to bond,” said Fenton-Cournoyer. “This will be a great opportunity for the team to be with one another as well as meeting some of our community members outside of the pool.”

The team opens its season Oct. 4 with an away meet against Army. The Cats come home for the first time this season Nov. 2 when theyhost New Hampshire.