Swimmers soak up too much sun

The sun beats down on Zanuck Swim Stadium. Swimmers go about their business, doing laps and sharing laughs in the relentless heat. Water polo players launch shot after shot. Both evade the shade and don’t put on an adequate amount of sunscreen. After all, they think the sun can’t harm them. The routine never changes. Such arrogance came back to haunt them. Two water polo players had operations on their precancerous moles. Skin cancer developed into a serious health concern on the teams.

Varsity water polo player Patrick Hibler ’08 had a large precancerous mole on his back surgically removed during the summer of 2006. He was practicing water polo for about six hours a day and did not put sunscreen on once, he said. During a normal body check-up at the doctor, he was diagnosed with a precancerous “A” typical skin cancer mole.

“It was infected very deep and they had to cut up a big chunk out of my back to prevent bigger health problems,” Hibler said.

“The good-looking tan came at a high cost,” Hibler said. “If I would have known earlier, I really would have taken better care of myself.”

The doctor advised Hibler not to get back in the pool for three weeks after the operation. Because of his role on the polo team, he taped up the surgery scar and jumped back into the aggressive water sport within a week. Immediately, the scar swelled up and became much larger. Since his surgery, Hibler has had no other skin problems and always protects himself before long practices.

The most common type of skin cancer is basal-cell carcinoma, Dr. Ronald Schott (Cody ’09) said. It is a localized cancer which is expressed by cancerous moles. The treatment for this cancer is a simple surgical excision where the mole is removed. In more extreme cases, radiation is necessary.

Schott blames sunlight for the cancers. Because of swimmers’ routines, they are more apt to skin cancer because they are constantly in direct sunlight.

He suggests that swimmers wear a high SPF sunscreen that is waterproof and that they should re-apply the lotion each time they enter and exit the pool. When out of the water, Schott believes that swimmers should wear long sleeve shirts and large brim hats to protect them from the sun’s rays.

Matt Graziano ’08 also had a precancerous mole removed after vacationing in Malibu in the summer of 2006.

“I was constantly exposed to the sun and it was totally unexpected when my doctor told me I had to have an immediate operation,” Graziano said. He said had noticed no prior symptoms or health problems.

“The ozone layer is thinner now, so people are receiving more ultraviolet light than in the past,” environmental science teacher Wendy Van Nordensaid. She advises students in her classes to buy broad-spectrum sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB light. Van Norden herself has battled through many cases of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. She suffered most of her skin damage from growing up in New England, she said.

Maxx Bricklin ’09 was also plagued by potentially cancerous moles. He discovered his mole two summers ago when he visited the dermatologist. The swimmer and water polo player had the mole removed by surgery. He puts more sunscreen on now in hopes of preventing a second cancer knowing that a lack of sunscreen was part of the cause for the first one. He sees a doctor before every summer to get checked out.

Larry Felix, head coach of the boys’ water polo team, gives his athletes a 15 minute break every two hours to “lube up in sun block to prevent those moles.” The water polo team can be exposed tp direct sunlight for up to seven hours at a time during the daily summer training.

“I always tell my boys that it doesn’t do any good when they quickly spray sun block and immediately jump in the pool,” Felix said. “That’s why I give them time to lube up and let the skin absorb the sun block.”

Boys’ Swimming Coach Dawn Barrett agrees with the theory of keeping swimmers safe. She urges her players to keep better care of themself.

“We encourage all athletes to use the proper preventative measures,” she said.