After a two-year hiatus, Keire returns to swimming and wins big for the Bearcats

Donor support helps make student dreams a reality every day. For one Bearcat, a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati created the opportunity to bounce back from a trauma, and fulfill a childhood dream.

At age 7, Jackie Keire told her mom she wanted to be a competitive swimmer. She took to the water naturally, under the careful instruction of her mom in their small backyard pool.

The water became a happy spot for her. A place she could leave her troubles behind. A peaceful place. Her place.

“I felt at home in the water,” Keire said.

Then one day she didn’t feel at home. Her father, Kanut, died unexpectedly at the age of 66. Keire was just 16, and the relief she once found in swimming was replaced by new demons.

It took nearly two years for Keire to get back in the water. “I remember sitting on the steps with my mom talking about wanting to get back into it. It really didn’t seem like two years had passed. It felt like two months.”

So Keire got back in the pool, but she faced another challenge. Schools that would have before lined up to recruit her knew nothing of her return. She didn’t have current race times, so she began personally reaching out to schools.

“I wanted someone to believe in me,” she said. Fortunately, UC did.

Jackie KeireThe Bearcats swim coaches saw something in Keire. She was extended an offer to be a Bearcat, and received a sizeable scholarship to help ease the financial stress on her and her family. That support didn’t just make Keire grateful, it inspired her to give her all while at UC.

“Saying thank you is never enough. It doesn’t feel like it’s enough,” Keire said. “A thank you from me is giving my everything. In swimming and in academics.”

Keire immediately fell into a rhythm alongside her new UC teammates, making friends and growing together under the careful instruction of the Bearcats coaching staff.

“UC had trust in me. So I wasn’t going to embarrass them.”

She certainly didn’t.

In March 2015, Keire traveled to the NCAA Women’s Swimming Championships and competed in the 200 freestyle. In a dramatic morning preliminary session, Keire and Purdue’s Rhianno Sheets tied in 1:45.36. The pair had to return for a swim-off with not only a spot in the B-Finals at stake, but also All-American status.

With the natatorium empty of all but Keire’s mom and a few close friends, Keire pulled out the victory, touching in 1:45.18, just ahead of Sheets who finished in 1:45.30. Later that evening, she returned to finish in 1:48.63, placing 16th nationally and becoming the first Bearcats female since 2005 to score points for UC and be named an All-American.

"I'm extremely proud of Jackie's accomplishments this year," said head coach Mandy Commons-DiSalle. "She continues to improve in the pool and really embodies the Bearcat spirit as a student-athlete at Cincinnati. I expect this trend to continue and am looking forward to seeing how she progresses and leads our program in the upcoming year. She has her sights set on the Olympics next year and we are working hard toward this goal."

Keire has some advice for aspiring college athletes and young swimmers, “Appreciate what is given to you, take advantage of the opportunity and say thank you.”

In June 2015, UC named Keire the Female Athlete of the Year.

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