They are diving in for Coach Stu

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Photo by Jeff Vorva
Richards, Argo and Oak Forest swimmers had a massive group pose before their meet in Oak Lawn Tuesday. The meet honored Richards coach Joel Staszewski and his family. Staszewski is in a hospital in Chicago after nearly dying this summer.  
Richards hosted its first home girls swimming meet of the season late Tuesday afternoon in Oak Lawn.
But 20 miles away, in the heart of Chicago, the man who helped build this team was in a hospital bed at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago starting a journey where he will try to eat and talk again.
Longtime Richards swimming, diving and water polo coach Joel Staszewski , a.k.a. Coach Stu, had gastric bypass surgery performed in June and complications from a bacterial infection gave him stroke-like symptoms, robbing him of his ability to eat and speak. He nearly died because of those complications.
During Tuesday’s meet with Argo and Oak Forest, shirts designed by Bulldogs swimmer Sarah Coffman were sold, along with “The Stu Crew’s Lemonade Brew” and proceeds will go to the family. The coach’s wife, Jill, and children Emma (age 12), Timothy (4), Claire, Nora and Lillian (triplets who just turned 2 at the end of July) were the guests of honor.
Jill teared up when talking about the support the family has received during this trying summer.
“We don’t like being the center of attention, but we feel really blessed,” she said. “We may not be money-rich, but we are people-rich. The Richards community and the other teams have rallied around us. People are coming out of the woodwork who we never met to help us.  They’ve been sending cards to the hospital and cards to the house. We’ve had meals for months.’’
Some of those meals came from one Richards’ opponents – Argo.
Argo assistant coach Theresa Kelsey, a Shepard graduate who was coached by Stazewski on the age-group level, said her players donated money for food via Meal Train and has helped interim coach Cora Umecker by sending her some drills for practice.
“If you learn how to swim from Coach Stu, you learn a lot,” Kelsey said. “He’s always willing to help. He’s a nice guy and he’s been around our swimming community for so long that everybody is going to want to help him.’’
Oak Forest's team presented a check of $500 for the family.
Umecker, who said she had not coached in 13 years when she was an assistant at a high school in Georgia, expressed gratitude for the outpouring of love shown by opposing teams, but she also heaped praise on the Bulldog swimmers.
“Everyone wants to help out on this team because they love coach Stu,” she said. “They are trying to make things as easy as they can on me. This is a great group of girls.’’
The goal for just about everyone involved is for Staszewski to be healthy enough to make it to one of the meets late in the season.  Jill said “it’s a long road ahead.’’
She said the coach has lost between 65 and 70 pounds. He has spent his nights either at Little Company of Mary, the University of Chicago and, as of last Thursday, RIC.
He was not at his Mt. Greenwood home for his 41st birthday and missed Father’s Day, Timothy’s birthday and the triplets’ birthday.
Jill said he was in pretty good shape, was a ‘meat and potatoes kind of guy” and chose the surgery to relieve pain in his knees and ankles .
 “He was a heavy guy but he was very active,” she said. “He would swim and play water polo and come home and take our kids for bike rides every night and take family walks.’’
What figured to be a three-day stay in the hospital turned into three months at three different hospitals so far.
Jill is crossing her fingers that RIC is the best place for Joel.
“They’ve been voted No. 1 in the nation for 26 years in a row,” Jill said. “So we’re hoping for a miraculous improvement. He has a long way to go.’’
Jill added that prayers are welcome.
“We’ll take prayers for any religion – I think we have them all covered,” she said.