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LSU professor Herman Kelly, an African American studies instructor and pastor, raised over $11,000 last year for the Hematology and Oncology Clinic of Baton Rouge to financially support patients going through cancer treatment, including his wife of 37 years.

Kelly partnered with Coach Nan Fontenot of Crawfish Aquatics to host a swim event, called “Swim for Life”. This year he is calling the event “Swim for Linda”. This is the name of the scholarship that “Swim for Life” created in Linda Kelly’s honor. The scholarship is given to students who are cancer survivors themselves and Kelly has a say in who receives the scholarship.

Linda Kelly first battled breast cancer in 2014 and then went into remission in 2019. The cancer returned and while she was going through treatment, Kelly found his passion for swimming once again. “I would go to the pool at 4 in the morning, and that was my therapy,” Kelly said.

In one of these early morning sessions, Kelly believes God spoke to him and gave him the idea to participate in “Swim for Life” events to raise money for cancer patients. Kelly was also told by one of Linda’s doctors that many people can’t afford these kinds of treatments and his main goal in participating in these events was to raise awareness around this issue.

“God spoke to me and said, ‘I want you to raise money for oncology and those going through cancer treatment,’” Kelly said.

Linda Kelly herself, against the advice of her husband, attended a “Swim for Life” event after one of her treatment sessions. Kelly said the fondest memory of his wife was when they would hang out together and she would cheer him on at his swimming competitions. He said she always pushed him to be the best person he could be.

Swimming has been a passion of Kelly’s for most of his life but his wife’s recent battle with cancer has renewed his love for the sport. The sport of swimming has created a path for him to improve his own health as well.

Kelly is preparing to go to Fort Lauderdale to represent Louisiana in the National Senior games. He swam competitively in college and high school. He has also won multiple state titles in senior swimming events in Louisiana.

“Swimming has been a purpose through the pain I am going through. As I struggle with the loss of my wife, I have a purpose, and part of my purpose is swimming,” Kelly said. His wife passed away from breast cancer on August 7th, 2021.

“She was my best friend, and I could talk to her about anything. She was a gift from God,” Kelly said.

He created the “Swim for Linda” idea while his wife was battling cancer goal hopes to continue helping other cancer patients with the financial burden that comes from expensive medical treatments.

When Kelly struggles with daily motivation, he remembers his wife, his faith, and the children they had together. He wants to establish a Linda Kelly Swimming Foundation in her memory and is in the process of doing just that. Kelly recommends that other people who may have lost a loved one to cancer find a purpose in their grievance and look for people who truly care about them.

“Find something in the community that you’re passionate about,” Kelly said. “I happen to be passionate about helping people who are less fortunate, children who don’t know how to swim, people who are going through cancer treatment. I want to help people going through this, because it’s a lot of money, and they need support.”

The LSU swimming community has rallied around Kelly’s passion for this event. They have participated in and raised money for the fundraiser in the past. His colleagues at LSU admire him for turning the pain from his grievance into a constructive hobby and being a role model to everyone who is lucky enough to meet him.

Kelly said, “My connection with the LSU community has given me a platform to do something good with my passion. I am a students’ professor, and I am gifted that my students love me just as much as I love them. I always wanted to teach, and as a pastor of 24 years, I see teaching as an extension of my ministry.”

“Swim for Life” fundraisers are common across the United States, but for Kelly, this year’s event is special because it is the first without his wife at his side. Kelly believes his participation in this event is important to keep Linda’s legacy alive and hopes that other people notice how he is raising awareness against the unforgiving disease that took his wife from him.

If you would like to assist Herman Kelly in raising money for cancer patients, the link to do so can be found below.


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