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Athletes, family cope with loss

Despite an open slot, the circle remains unbroken.

The pre-match ritual for the Ohio State Synchronized Swimming Team is to circle around, lock arms and rally together. But on Sept. 15 the team found themselves down a link. On that morning team member Jessica Beck was found dead.

Preliminary autopsy results indicate Jessica Beck, a senior in communication, died from acute cardiac arrhythmia, said Joyce Beck, her mother.

“Her and two of her roommates were going to a movie, they came back and then she went to bed and then just didn’t wake up,” Joyce Beck said.

Despite further results which could bear little change, Joyce Beck said she still cannot believe the cause of death.

“It blows my mind, I don’t get this,” she said. “It’s not like she swam six swimthroughs. They were in offseason. That’s why I didn’t get it – I still don’t get it.”

Jessica Beck’s physical shape was not a concern, her mother said.

Hailing from Richmond, Va. Jessica Beck was involved in swimming and gymnastics since she was young, Joyce Beck said.

At age 11, Jessica Beck was invited to a synchronized swimming demonstration and saw in it a way to meld her love of swimming and gymnastics, said Jeff Beck, her father.

After the demonstration, she urged her mother to enroll her in the synchronized swimming club The Dolpholinas.

Throughout her years in the club Jessica Beck worked hard and was a leader, said Carole Mitchell, The Dolpholinas’ coach.

“(Jessica) was the hardest worker I ever had,” she said. “She always said yes or no ma’am.”

Despite spending hours working on improving her swimming Jessica Beck found ways to give back, Joyce Beck said.

In Virginia, she volunteered at the YMCA teaching swimming lessons to autistic children; she would later teach inner-city Columbus youth how to swim, Joyce Beck said.

Even after death, tales of her generosity continue to emerge, Jeff Beck said.

During Jessica Beck’s funeral in Virginia her parents were approached by a girl who they never met.

“This non-descript plain girl in her late teens … came up to us and said ‘Mr. and Mrs. Beck you don’t know me but I went to (high school) with Jessica. I had no friends nobody would ever talk to me, nobody would give me the time of day. But everyday Jessica would have a smile and a kind word for me,'” Jeff Beck said.

Jessica Beck’s giving spirit continued through to The Dolpholinas, Mitchell said.

“She was definitely a team leader,” she said. “When she was swimming all of the little girls looked up to her. She served as a big sister to all the girls who were on the team.”

A drive was instilled in Jessica Beck from the moment she joined the team, Mitchell said.

“Jessica had some natural ability but she had to work really hard,” she said. “There were people who it came to easier than her but she became such a good synchronized swimmer.”

Despite her unflinching work ethic Jessica Beck was always one who looked to buck up her teammates, Mitchell said.

“She would come to practice every day willing to teach everyone else everything she knew,” she said. “She’d rather give the info and have everyone else get better. She wanted everyone to get better – she wanted everyone to realize the dream she had.”

Jessica Beck’s dream was to be a member of OSU’s synchronized swimming team, Mitchell said.

“That’s all she wanted to do her entire life was to swim for Ohio State because Ohio State is number one,” she said. “When she got accepted she couldn’t believe it. When she called me (about acceptance) she was crying and screaming. She couldn’t believe it.”

Once on the team Jessica Beck continued to display the same kind of leadership and motivation she showed throughout her youth, teammate and roommate Erin Schmidt said.

“She was a leader but not so in the sense that she controlled everyone,” she said. “It was our last final, we had to pull off our best swim ever. She turned to everyone and said ‘I love you guys so much. Do it for each other.’ She always put others first even though it meant sacrificing her happiness.”

Her southern upbringing was evident all throughout her time at OSU, Schmidt said.

“She was a sweet southern girl with a bit of a New York edge,” she said.

Jessica Beck’s plans were to continue to graduate school after receiving her bachelors, said Stephanie Raftery, her teammate and roommate.

Jessica Beck will receive an honorary degree in communications in the spring, Joyce Beck said.

The team is still grieving over Jessica Beck’s loss, said Holly Vargo-Brown, assistant synchronized swimming coach.

“It’s been very difficult this past week,” she said. “Everyone has felt her loss. She has a locker and her pictures mounted on it. It’s a constant visual memory.”

Because her death happened so recently the team still feels Jessica Beck’s presence during practice, Raftery said.

“There’s not a moment we step into the pool and not think about her,” she said. “We think of her sitting on the pool’s deck telling us ‘You guys need to get higher.’ I think she is always with us – there is definitely an angel smiling down upon us.”

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