The noise level in the front row at a rock concert is typically about 110 decibels. The cheering inside Carleton College’s Thorpe Pool topped 120 on Tuesday.
The occasion was the "Hour of Power," an event held annually since 2006. It commemorates Ted Mullin, a Carleton history major and swim-team member who died of sarcoma, a rare and relatively unknown form of cancer. Since his death, Carleton’s swimmers have staged the annual, hour-long relay race to raise funds to research the disease.
In recent years, the event has expanded to include Carleton’s "dry land" teams like the baseball squad, which partnered with the softball team to perform a base-running relay to raise money for the same goal. Many of the Knights’ dryland teams participated at the same time that the swimmers hit the water.
The Hour of Power has also spread geographically: schools from Maine to California now participate and, in recent years, so have institutions overseas.
In one respect, however, Hour of Power 2013 was different. It marked the first time that, as swim captain, Hannah Happ ‘14 put it, "None of us swam with someone who swam with Ted" – the first time that no members of even the senior class had a direct connection to the 2006 team of which Mullin was a member.
That was not lost on Mary Henry, Mullin’s mother, who took in the relay poolside. "[The enthusiasm] is amazing. We had
no idea," she said, "those people never even knew Ted."
Brie Farley, a leader of Carls against Cancer tasked with coordinating events nationwide, offered an explanation. Participants might not have known Mullin, she suggested, but they probably knew someone like him, a friend or family member stricken with the terminable disease.
"There’s a sense of empathy," she said, "everyone can connect."
Longtime Head Coach Andy Clark, who coached Mullin, echoed her observations. Almost everyone, he said, knew cancer. However, there was more to Hour of Power’s growing popularity than that, he added.
"It’s a tradition," he said, "and the nature of Carleton is that traditions become a part of the life."
But for Carls to adopt a tradition, he explained, it had to have "high levels of integrity." Hour of Power does, in abundance.
"We have an event that can make change happen," he said, "swimmers want to be a part of that."
Ted Mullin, Clark suggested, would be proud.