Just keep swimming: Penn swimmer defies the odds

Published: Jan. 23, 2020 at 10:57 PM EST
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Cancer is something that unfortunately affects us all, and in the fight for one's life, sometimes all you need to do is just keep swimming.

Tristan Zuyderwyk was a state-ranked swimmer before his world was turned upside down.

“We definitely know that Tristan is very tough,” said Rodney Zuyderwyk, Tristan's dad.

Tough would be an understatement when describing Tristan. He's overcome the unthinkable as a freshman in high school.

“Well, of course, it is really scary to get that diagnosis,” Rodney said. “That's something that you just can't prepare for.”

After experiencing some back pain, Tristan was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, an extremely rare cancer with just a 50% survival rate.

“We're just not going to give it any credit,” said Jill Zuyderwyk, Tristan's mom. “We're just going to be who we are. There was still a lot of laughter in our house. We tried to keep everything the same.”

“It was really hard,” said Brock Zuyderwyk, Tristan's brother. “But we trusted that he was going to be able to push through because he's one of the toughest people I've ever met.”

An already decorated swimmer, Tristan had one focus.

“As soon as I started, I just wanted to get through it so I could get back in the pool,” Tristan said.

He had been preparing to join Penn's swim team when he got diagnosed.

“When you learn of his diagnosis, high school swimming becomes insignificant,” Penn swim coach Jess Preston said.

Tristan defied the odds, beating his cancer in seven months when doctors initially said it could be a year.

“It's been awesome to see how well and how quickly he's been able to recover,” Brock said. “He's already back in the water. I'm just so thrilled for him.”

Last week, Tristan was finally able to compete again.

“I even got a little emotion just being able to put him into the lineup,” Preston said.

Getting a chance to get back in the pool, swimming with his brother Brock on senior night.

"Really emotional,” Brock said. “It was a good feeling just knowing that he's back. He's already looking super fast in the water. It was just a really happy moment.”

“It felt great,” Tristan said. “Hard, but it was it felt good.”

The two brothers competed in the medley relay, and just like in the race to beat cancer, Tristan came out victorious.

“Yeah, I was pretty nervous, but time didn't really matter for me right now,” Tristan said. “It was just more about the experience.”

Tristan is still working to gain back his full strength, but his coach has high hopes for the future.

“From the times he was swimming before he got sick, he's very capable of being one of the best swimmers we've ever had,” Preston said.

For Tristan, he's ready to just keep swimming.

“Start of a new chapter, right?” Rodney said.

The race was extra special for Jill because it was the first time her boys competed together since they were little.

Brock plans to go the premed track in college because he was so inspired by Tristan's doctors.

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