Swimming for his Life

August 26th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in From Our Alumni

by Patty Gelb

Ryan Stevens(6)Standing on the Canadian bank of Lake Erie looking across its black waters, contemplating his pending 24-mile swim at midnight, Ryan Stevens (B.A. in English ’95) felt a bit nervous. The view looked very different than when he was looking at the water from the American side earlier in the afternoon. Earlier the sun was out, the water was calm and he could see the lighthouse across the lake. But, Lake Erie has a funny way of letting a swimmer know when she is ready for you to swim across her. For Stevens, she decided his chance was at midnight.

This swim across Lake Erie was never supposed to happen at night. But the Monroe, Mich., native who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2009, had been through hell and back getting to this moment. He planned this swim across Lake Erie to help raise awareness of a disease which may affect as many as 700,000 Americans. Originally it was scheduled to happen during the day, in the sun, with hopefully calm waters. Unfortunately, weather issues had narrowed his window of opportunity to this night in mid-July.  Even though he was a little nervous about swimming at night, he had trained for months. He wasn’t going to back down from his chance. So he faced the black waters and started to swim.

There was a time a few years earlier that Stevens couldn’t imagine attempting a lengthy swim across the open waters of Lake Erie. He couldn’t even get off of the couch. It all began Christmas morning in 2008. He woke up feeling rotten and thought that he had food poisoning. Days later, still feeling sick, Stevens’ wife Samantha pushed him to go to the doctor.

At that first appointment the doctor told him he probably had food poisoning or something upset his stomach. He was told to eat yogurt and if not better in a week to come back. A week later, Stevens was still feeling the symptoms similar to food poisoning. He was referred to a gastroenterologist. It was over a month before that appointment all the while dealing with significant pain, daily fevers, severe diarrhea and serious weight loss.

At that appointment on March 2, 2009, Stevens had his first colonoscopy and at the age of 35 was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Named after Dr. Burrill Crohn, who first described the disease in 1932, Crohn’s disease belongs to a group of conditions known as inflammatory bowel diseases. Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. The disease causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues in the intestines which leads to symptoms like bleeding, diarrhea, stomach pain and weight loss.

Over the next year and a half, Stevens, who works for a company that translates foreign languages, was put on a variety of different medications to try to alleviate his symptoms but nothing ended up helping. At one point his doctor started throwing around the word “surgery,” which scared Stevens. He kept pushing to try different medications. By October of 2010 he had another colonoscopy and he was told that they really needed to consider surgery. Stevens went for a second opinion at the Cleveland Clinic.

At first the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic changed his medications and gave those changes a few months to see if there was improvement. There was not. Ryan still was fatigued, sick, losing weight and unable to do much of anything but sleep or lay on the couch. In February, 2011, he lost another 11 pounds in just a week and a half. When he went back to the doctor, he was immediately admitted into the hospital. The next day they did a full colonoscopy and following those results, his doctor told him that he really should not leave the hospital until he had surgery to remove his colon.

Although he had been fighting to not have to have surgery, he realized that he had spent the last two years subsisting between his couch, the bathroom and his bedroom. His life had been on hold for that full two years. He missed weddings of his best friend and several family members.

“When you have to consider even a 15-minute drive somewhere, knowing that you will need a bathroom within five minutes, your life becomes a little more complicated,” said Stevens.

Also, because his body was not accepting nutrients he was experiencing severe weight loss. He was constantly fatigued and weak. Stevens was exhausted all of the time over those last two years.

He recalled, “I would just look down at the ground and decide this looks like a very good place to take a nap.”

He would lay down on the floor right where he was and fall asleep not having the strength to go into the bedroom and lay down on the bed. One time his wife came home to find him passed out on the floor in the middle of the room.

“She just freaked out because she thought I was unconscious or that something happened. I woke up to her screaming and shaking me,” he remembered. He looked up and told her that he just wanted to take a nap. His wife told him to never do that to her again.

But the hardest part for Stevens was what it did to his relationships, especially between him and his now 12-year-old son Riley. They had always been an active family until this disease.

“I remembered Riley running in every day to ask ‘Hey dad, let’s go out and…’ asking different things that we could go do together,” Stevens said. “I shouldn’t have done it, but I would always say to him, ‘Not today buddy, maybe tomorrow.’ It came to the day where Riley just stopped asking because he already knew what the answer was going to be.”

Stevens was tired. Normally weighing a little over 180 pounds, he weighed 120 at that point. He was so underweight that his medical team discussed potentially putting him on a feeding tube to gain back some weight before surgery. But they determined that they needed to proceed. When he was told they should go ahead with the surgery he agreed.

When he met his surgeon, he liked her immediately. She came into his room, sat down, took his hand and said, “So it sounds like you aren’t feeling well.” That made Stevens and his wife chuckle and put them at ease. His surgeon told him that they were going to go in, remove his colon and he was going to bounce back so quickly, that he would kick himself for not doing this a year ago. He hoped that was the case and it turned out that it was. He had the surgery and the first week home, he gained 11 pounds. He felt great!

“I credit my wife with keeping me alive because I am such a stubborn guy, especially about going to doctors,” said Stevens. “She is the one who pushed me to go originally and kept me on track.”

Ryan Stevens (7)A full year following all of his surgeries, Stevens was still feeling wonderful.  He was continuing to gain weight and working to get back into shape. One of his doctor’s instructions was to work out because that helps stimulate the immune system. Stevens was a competitive swimmer all the way through high school and college, even competing on the swim team at UT. Coming from a swimming background, his natural inclination when instructed to work out was to get back in the pool.

He also really wanted to write about what he had been through with Crohn’s disease so he started a blog (link to the blog below).

“When I was going through it, I was too close to it,” Stevens said. “I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. But now, I really want to talk to others who were dealing with Crohn’s. I also wanted to educate people about this disease.”

He takes a very humorous approach to it. Go the blog to see his Jabba the Hut with Crohn’s reference.

Ryan Stevens (6)When he was creating his blog, he also wondered how he could create more awareness of the disease. Since he was back swimming regularly again, his first thought was he could swim the English Channel. But after research, he found that the costs were prohibitive. He then thought “Hey, I live in a Great Lakes’ state” so he started researching swimming the lake. He found Dr. Eric Mizuba of Erie, Pa., who made the crossing in July, 2012 and reached out to him for advice.

“He was very helpful to me and I now call him my coach,” Stevens said. “He was instrumental in giving me all of the information that I needed to plan and train for this venture.”

Training involved a lot of boring laps in the pool.  With such a cool and rainy spring, most of his training time was in the pool doing sets and interval training. This is very different than training in the lake where he could experience dealing with waves, wind and current.

“In a pool you have a black line on the bottom of the pool that says stay here,” Stevens said. “You don’t have that in the open water which is one of many challenges of swimming in the lake. But, I actually feel comfortable in the open water. I generally will have one wave hit me early on which makes me swallow lake water. Then I say, ‘That isn’t going to happen again.’ I adapt pretty quickly.”

The swim across the 24-mile stretch of Lake Erie was planned and promoted. He had the weekend set and was ready to go either Saturday or Sunday. He had been told by both Mizuba and his boat captain that you don’t really pick the day; you let the lake tell you the day. But, when the team got down to the marina the Friday before his planned weekend, the captain said there is no way he could do it Saturday or Sunday. It was forecasted to rain with lighting and high winds.

The boat captain then asked him about swimming in the dark and if he wanted to attempt the swim that night.

Stevens joked, “I know I only have half of my guts left and that half at first said, ‘I don’t know about this.’”

It was a tough decision and it took him about twenty minutes to make up his mind. It was already July and knowing the rest of his family’s summer schedule, this was his only chance left this season. He finally decided and told the team “Ok, let’s do this.”

Ryan Stevens (5)Stevens’ team consisted of his wife, his son, his two brothers and a couple of his friends. As they were loading the boat and getting the equipment ready late that afternoon, the weather was perfect. But by the time everything was loaded and ready to go, it was dark out.

As they were preparing to start the swim from the Canadian bank of the lake, Stevens realized another obstacle that he hadn’t planned for. He regularly wears glasses and swims with prescription goggles. But, his prescription goggles are tinted making an already black night even darker. He would have to wear non-prescription goggles which would only let him see a little light but everything would be blurry.

When he jumped into the water, it was 12:18 a.m. on Saturday.

“I am blind as a bat without my prescription goggles, let alone with it being at night,” Stevens said. “To help me see, they hung glow sticks off of the side of the kayak that ran a couple of yards away from me. I breathe to the right so when I would turn my head, all I could see would be two tiny and blurry lights as a guide.”

The water wasn’t perfectly calm, but not too bad at the start. The two things that affected Stevens the most were the cold and the thought of debris in the water. There had been storms during the week, leaving obstacles in his path. While swimming, Stevens could see his hand when it passed his face but it would totally disappear into the darkness before it even hit the water. There was no way that he would see a piece of driftwood before running full speed into it. That kept his mind working not letting him get into that “Zen-like” state that he normally gets into while swimming distance.

The whole time he was in the water, the weather kept getting worse. A southerly wind was coming in from Pennsylvania right into their path which was kicking up the waves and current.

But it was the cold that really affected him. The water temperature was 73 degrees, which he said wasn’t too bad when he was moving. But, when he would stop for drinks or food, the chill crept in. It was during his third break, at 5.7 miles, when Stevens came out of the water.

“I really needed the sun,” he said. “Two weeks prior to the swim, I went out to meet the captain and make final arrangements. We went out on the lake and I swam for a while. That day the sun was out and it was warming my back and it made all of the difference in the world.”

The disappointment he felt was tempered by an incredible team of supporters who dove in head first.

The plan had always been that if Stevens was unable to complete the swim that the team would turn it into a relay for Crohn’s disease. When the UT alumnus got out, his good friend Chris got in and started swimming. The replacement swam two miles before the team had to pull him in back in the boat. At that point they were hitting six to seven foot rolling waves.  The forecast showed no sign of improvement. The rest of the swim was called off…at least for this year.

“So we gave it a try and I am absolutely not giving up,” said Stevens. “I will swim across that lake.  It was disappointing to not make it the first time but we learned a lot. The biggest thing that I learned was I don’t pick the day. The lake picks the day. I need to go back with a window of a week or maybe even longer and be ready to go on the day that is the right day weather-wise. The forecast for the night that we did the swim was supposed to be calm, but it changes on a dime.”

Stevens knew that he did not want Crohn’s to slow him down anymore. As he says, he may have a chronic condition but the idea is to overcome it. He learned that there were a lot of people who have Crohn’s and going through a lot of what he went through. He got a lot of emails from others thanking him for doing the swim to help raise awareness of the disease. Stevens just really wanted to try to make a difference.

Ryan Stevens(5)“Crohn’s is a real nasty beast,” he said. “It comes in and takes over your life. I feel it is important to discuss this disease because it can be an invisible illness. You can look at me now and think that I look healthy, but if you looked at my insides you would know otherwise. When I was down to 120 pounds I could have walked onto the set of “Walking Dead” and the director would have grabbed me and put me right in the front of the shot because I looked the part even without the zombie makeup.”

Crohn’s disease does not have a cure. Stevens hopes that there are kids out there that are interested in science and math to become the scientists who will come up with the cure.

“Over 70 percent of our immune system is located in our gut,” said Stevens. “If we had a cure for Crohn’s, we would have a cure for many other things. I can’t prove that but that is my wishful thinking anyway and I believe that is something to focus on.”

To learn more about Crohn’s disease, you can visit The Crohn’s Colitis Foundation of America’s website by clicking here.

To read more about Ryan Stevens’ experiences, visit his blog by clicking here.

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Rocketman Headcovers Now Available

August 26th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in The Rockets

08082013-4914cropThe newest, coolest thing for your golf bag is now available! The women’s golf team at the University is selling Rocketman headcovers for $30 each (includes tax) as a major fundraiser for the  program.  The Rocketman covers are being sold at The Rocket Shop in Savage Arena, The PIT and Belmont Country Club.  They may also be found online at www.utrockets.com and will be available at all home football games. Supplies are limited.

“I am so excited about how our new Rocketman headcovers have turned out,” said Head Women’s Golf Coach Nicole Hollingsworth. “They are the cutest things and the best headcover I have ever seen. It was a year-long process from start to finish but I am so excited about this product that all Toledo fans will want to purchase. This is a great way for Rocket fans to support our program.”

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Class Notes & Obits

August 26th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Class Notes

Please submit class notes to: Amanda.kessler@utoledo.edu


Talmage OACC Excellence 05 30 13photo **Diana (Dee) Talmage (MEd ’65) was awarded the Maureen C. Grady award for special achievement in May of 2013 by the Ohio Association of Community Colleges. This award was given for her outstanding commitment to the local community and higher education.

*Lawrence Rochelle (Ed ’62, Ed Spec ’80) has just had his 13th thriller published, “Back to the Rat”. Find it on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/mp3hluz.

Wendell Mayo (A/S ’79) is the winner of the Subito Press Award for Innovative Fiction for his short story collection, “The Cucumber King of Kendainiai”. This award is sponsored by the University of Colorado Boulder. The book will be published in fall of 2013.

Douglas Dymarkowski (Bus ’88) is now vice president and general counsel at Devonshire Fund Group, LLC.


Sharon M. Fulop (A/S ’94) was awarded the 2013 Ohio Glass Ceiling Award by the National Diversity Council. Sharon is employed by Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP. Fulop_Sharon_300dpi

Susan Norkus (PhD ’00) has been selected to receive the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Athletic Trainer Service Award. This award recognizes her for her contributions to the athletic training profession as a volunteer at the local and state levels.

DebWellman Debra Wellman (PhD ’00) was appointed as dean of the College of Professional Studies at Rollins College.
Jason Reed Struble (MBA ’04) has published an article through The American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education Group. Jason also coauthored the article, “The Nature of a Passport at the Intersection of Customary International Law and American Judicial Practice”. He can be contacted via email at jasonstruble@gmail.com or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/pub/jason-reed-struble/b/4a2/a21. Jason_Reed_Struble_Esq_635070616906558968
9U2A1636_Kellie_headshot Kellie (Sorter) Stewart (Bus ’03) has joined 212 Capital Group as a financial representative.

Marriages & unions

*Morgan Bishop (Ed ’12) and Allen-Michael Brown were recently engaged to be married. Their wedding is planned for October 19, 2013 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. BishopBrown
hill-goergens engageweb Glen Joseph Goergens (Univ Coll ’97) and Heather Marie Hill were married on July 2 in Findlay, Ohio.
Tara Ann Wannemacher (Ed ’09) and Evan Richard Peck were married on July 13 at Immaculate Conception Church in Ottoville, Ohio. WannemacherPeck
Clausing Jennifer L. Meyer (HHS ’06, HSHS ’09) and Matthew R. Clausing (Bus ’06) were married on June 6, 2013 in Riviera Maya, Mexico. The couple resides in the Cincinnati, Ohio area.

Death Notices

Faculty, staff & friends
Laura Alma (Lyman) Brecher (MEd ’79), Toledo at 80. She taught nursing at UT and MCO.

*Albert Brookenthal (Pharm ’54), Toledo at 84. A pharmacist who worked in the Student Medical Clinic from 2007 to 2009.

Jeanne C. Harper, Swanton, Ohio at 67. She was a clerical specialist in the surgical intensive care unit at MCO from 1985 to 1992.

Marilyn Williams-Bayer (MEd ’85), Hillsdale, Mich. at 77. She was a registered nurse at MCO from 1978 to 1988.

**Dr. Robert J. Burns (Bus ’41, MA ’50), South Fort Myers, Fla. at 96. He joined the UT staff in 1946 as an assistant director of evening sessions and alumni relations and assistant editor of The University Bulletin. In 1951, Burns was appointed assistant professor of psychology. Six years later, he was promoted to associate professor. He served as acting department chair from 1961 to 1964, received his doctorate from the University of Michigan in 1966 and was named a professor in 1972. During his career at UT, Burns developed the industrial psychology major, was an academic advisor to students for 35 years, and served on numerous committees. The pioneer in the study and analysis of the psychology of aging and retirement was one of the governor’s delegates to the first White House Conference on Aging, which established the structure of the Area Offices on Aging. In 1974, Burns was elected president of Senior Centers Inc., a nonprofit corporation established to develop and operate Toledo’s first center to provide comprehensive services for the aged. When he retired in 1982, Burns was designated as professor emeritus. He was a member of Chi Rho Nu, which became Theta Chi fraternity and served as faculty advisor for 28 years.

Maxine M. Madrzykowski, Maumee, Ohio at 86. She was a former food service worker in the Student Union.

Kristi G. Miller, Defiance, Ohio at 36. She was a registered nurse at UT Medical Center from 2011 to March of 2013.

Anna (D’Michalis) Nicholas, Toledo at 77. She was a secretary in the English Department from 1980 until 1994.

*John Jobe, Spring Grove, Pa. at 86.

Seymour Rothman (A/S ’36), Sylvania, Ohio at 99.

Grace Bowen (Bus ’39), Columbus, Ohio at 70.

**Ida Holmes (Ed ’44), Ecorse, Mich. at 93.

Dr. John Seubert (A/S ’46), Lakewood, Ohio at 91.

*Jack West (A/S ’43, MA ’52, Law ’58), Cherry Hill, N.J. at 93.

Hulda Bialko (Ed ’42), Mason, Mich. at 93.

Robert Felt (UTCTC ’49), Oregon, Ohio at 88.

**Bartus Quinn (Bus ’42), Garden Grove, Calif. at 96.

*Walter Gilmore (Eng ’51), Moorestown, N.J. at 86.

Vincent Nardy (Pharm ’52), Boardman, Ohio at 86.

Dorothy Pasztor (’50), Folsom, Calif.

Paul Zatko (Bus ’54), Sylvania, Ohio at 82.
Harry Brand (Bus ’58), Anaheim, Calif. at 83.

Dr. Paul Leahy (Law ’53), Scottsdale, Ariz.

*Mary Mather, att. in 1954, Toledo at 77.

Lawrence Hill (A/S ’58), Venice, Fla. at 78.

*Lawrence Pfaender (Eng ’50), Toledo at 86.

Paul Timco (Pharm ’60), Mentor, Ohio at 78.

Delores Smith (MEd ’68), Sylvania, Ohio at 67.

Barbara Heimbach (Ed ’63), Lake Wales, Fla. at 71.

Charles Stehno (Ed ’60, MEd ’70), Medina, Ohio at 80.

Laura Brecher (MEd ’79), Ottawa Hills, Ohio at 80.

George Alther (MS ’76), Ferndale, Mich. at 68.

Kenneth Carstensen (MBA ’75), Cape Coral, Fla. at 60.

Frederick Rost (Univ Coll ’77), Bradenton, Fla. at 77.

*Edward Mirra (MBA ’73), Toledo at 63.

Richard Byrnes (MS ’77), Fremont, Ohio at 70.

Jose Montalvo (UTCTC ’71), Toledo at 86.

Ralph Staup (Ed Spec ’75), Blissfield, Mich. at 83.

Joe Haberkamp (UTCTC ’77, Univ Coll ’80), Toledo at 69.

Kurt Haas (UTCTC ’79), Amanda, Ohio at 55.

James Donnally (Univ Coll ’86), Marysville, Ohio at 71.

William Catlin (Univ Coll ’88), Toledo at 80.

Timothy Sheehan (Law ’84), Toledo at 54.

Marsha Clere (MEd ’80), Oregon, Ohio at 63.

Susan Earl (MEd ’89), Toledo at 62.

Hannah Simon (A/S ’99), Toledo at 83.

William Crosser (UTCTC ’91), Northwood, Ohio at 70.

Sandra Rank (UTCTC ’94), Toledo at 66.

Don McKivett (A/S ’91), Toledo at 60.

*Annual Alumni Association Member
**Lifetime Alumni Association Member

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UT in the News

August 23rd, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in In The News

Art on the Mall Draws More Than 12,000 to UT

They jokingly call themselves two ladies from a sweatshop in Michigan.

But really, Sharon Schadewald and Ginger Goodin are jewelry artists who see beauty in ordinary objects.

They transform antique kitchen utensils into rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings.

Read More: http://www.toledoblade.com/Art/2013/07/29/Art-on-the-Mall-draws-over-12-000-to-UT.html#bs72ECJQaoxvfQuZ.99

More Art on the Mall Coverage

New Language Translation Technology at UTMC

UT Alumna To Open Charter School In Detroit

A University of Toledo alumna who founded a unique and successful business making eco-friendly children’s clothing is embarking on another project to assist youth by starting a charter school in Detroit.

Read More: http://utnews.utoledo.edu/index.php/08_07_2013/ut-alumna-to-open-charter-school-in-detroit

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Let’s Connect!

August 23rd, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Our Community


Join your University of Toledo Alumni Association on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube to stay up to date with news and events from your alma mater and the UT Alumni Association. Alumni can also receive job opportunities, connect with fellow alumni and celebrate their Rocket pride through our social media platforms.

The University of Toledo Foundation and Gateway, partners of the UT Alumni Association, also want you to connect! Please like the Foundation on Facebook, where alumni and friends can celebrate UT and learn about the various ways to support our mission.

Follow Gateway, a retail center that offers dining, shopping, entertainment services and luxury student apartments on The University of Toledo’s main campus, on Facebook and Twitter to discover sales, specials, news and events.

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