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Diving in to Help in the fight vs. COVID-19
Swimming and Diving  . 

Diving in to Help in the fight vs. COVID-19

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

Throw a challenge at Megan Jones, and you will likely hear, “challenge accepted.” The senior South Carolina swimmer is not only set to graduate with her nursing degree, but she is spear-heading an effort to secure protective eyewear for health care workers and is also volunteering to be on the front lines in treating COVID-19 patients.

“When I look back at my life, I want to be able to say that I helped people in some way,” Jones said. “Now that I’ve been in a hospital setting, it’s really cool to see the impact we can have.

“I would love to be a role model for our student-athletes, not just our swimmers, that you can do nursing and be an athlete for four years.”

A native of Suwanee, Ga., Jones remained in Columbia after the COVID-19 outbreak to try to get her required clinical hours for nursing, but when those were put on hold, she didn’t shy away from getting involved. An email from a summer league swim team she coaches inspired her to track down “gently used” goggles from various swimming communities to be used as protective eyewear for health care workers.

“One of our families had been in contact with Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, and they were starting to run low on the PPE goggles,” Jones said. “One of the members of board of directors is a family friend, whose kids all swam. He suggested that we use swim goggles. He sent a message out to the Atlanta Community, and I know we have a lot of goggles in our storage room that we use as a team here.”

After reaching out to head coach McGee Moody to see if they could donate some of the extra team goggles, she went on social media to enlist help from other schools.

“We’re donating our extra goggles, and I had a lot of alumni and pro swimmers re-tweet it,” Jones said. “There was a swim team in Georgia that donated 150 pairs of brand-new goggles, and then other teams contacted me about shipping goggles. We’ve heard that the Vanderbilt Medical System hospitals have a need, and I was told the Veterans Hospital here in Columbia was running out of supplies, so we might take some there when they come in. We’re still in the process of getting them in.

“Being in nursing, I’ve seen a lot of people working through this pandemic, and I’ve seen people donating things like hand sanitizer and nobody had stepped up to make goggles and things like that, so I thought the swimming community was so broad and people always have extra goggles and it was a natural fit. It turns out that Speedo is now making goggles to be donated, which is wonderful!”

“There is no way I could have earned my degree without my wonderful team.”

While she was not able to do all of her regular clinical hours due to the pandemic, Jones was not deterred and requested an opportunity to volunteer at Prisma Health Hospital in Columbia.

“They haven’t finalized our clinicals schedule, and we have to get a set number of hours,” Jones explained. “We had to go through a process to be approved to volunteer, and I just got approved to do that. I just have to wait and see when they want me to come in and work their outside testing and screening process. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do that soon.

“I was a little nervous, but I’m not one of those people who sits still very well. Now that I’m done with swimming and school is online, this is something I can do. I have the time and the education to help people a little more now. There’s no way I could sit and watch other people do it. I’m living in Columbia by myself right now, so I’m sort of the perfect candidate to help out because I’m only putting myself at risk.”
Megan Jones action
As a student-athlete, Jones is accustomed to having a full plate when it comes to managing her schedule.  The time constraints put on student-athletes as well as requirements for nursing candidates can make it difficult to complete all four years of one’s eligibility in athletics, but Jones didn’t want to give up either of her passions.

“I thought, there’s no way I could not swim my senior year!” Jones said. “I decided I was going to make it work. Luckily it did. It paid off, and I’m really happy about it.”

“It has been a rollercoaster ride. I think we’ve had one (swimmer) since I’ve been here who made it to her junior year as a nursing major and kept swimming. Our junior and senior years are our clinical/upper division where we go into the hospital to work a few times per week. That’s really difficult with our practice schedule. We practice twice a day, we lift weights, and we have class. I would wake up and go to morning practice from 6 to 7 a.m. I couldn’t’ stay the whole practice.  I’d run and put on my scrubs and go to the hospital until 3 p.m. Then I’d come in a little bit late for afternoon practice.”

Jones noted that accomplishing both of her goals wasn’t all on her.

“There is no way I could have earned my degree without my wonderful team,” Jones said.  “They let me practice taking blood pressures on them, they faked ailments for me to treat, sat at the Dodie (Anderson Academic Enrichment Center) for hours with me studying, and made me dinner after 12-hour shifts. I’m grateful to have had their support along with our whole academics and athletics staff!

“My team has been so supportive. Every afternoon, I’d come in my scrubs and they would cheer. They knew how stressed I was. It was great. I’d stay a little late, and then I’d go and lift. Then we’d have to travel to meets, so I’d have to make up exams. One time we went to a meet in Atlanta, which is close to my home. I swam the first day, then my dad drove me back to Columbia to take an exam, and he drove me back to the meet so I could swim in the finals that night. It’s been something else!”

While Jones has had to make sacrifices to be a student-athlete and nursing major, she doesn’t have any regrets.
“I’m just trying to make the best of it and take this experience as something I can learn from,” Jones said. “I was undecided on what I wanted to do when I first came to school, but I knew I wanted to be in healthcare. I knew I wanted to work with kids. I’ve been babysitting and nannying and teaching some lessons my whole life. I knew I wanted to help kids, and I’m very social and outgoing. I love to talk to people. Before I came to college, I had a chance to shadow some nurses, and I fell in love with it. Being in a hospital, I realized the amount of contact you have with patients in trying to help them.”

It’s not a surprise that once she receives her degree, Jones already has a job lined up and will be working at a children’s hospital in Charlotte, N.C.