Reflections of Inspiration



Michael Reaves

To Madison Winstead, swimming isn’t just something to do for fun or a sport to compete in with decorated greats such as American Olympians Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

For the Paul Laurence Dunbar senior, swimming has always been a way for her to do something she loved. On Friday, as she looks into the water as a Wildcat for the first time, the pool will reflect an even deeper meaning.

Her mother, Shane Winstead, saw a chance for her daughter to compete in sports at the college level.

“I think Madison, she was always good at any sport she tried,” Shane Winstead said. “I felt like with (being) a female, you know that she would probably have good opportunities to play a sport in college.”

In high school, Madison Winstead competed at the highest level, eventually finishing as runner-up in the KHSAA state meet in the 100-meter breaststroke as a freshman in 2013.  She set a goal to win the championship her sophomore year, only to finish runner-up in 2014 and again in 2015.

On Feb. 27, 2016, among a crowded Ralph Wright Natatorium at the University of Louisville — including her mother Shane Winstead, and father Keith Winstead – Madison Winstead finally had her moment.

Swimming in the final heat as the only Lexington-local high school swimmer, she not only won by 1.07 seconds, but broke the KHSAA state meet record in the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:00.77.

“It was just awesome to finally get it done and look at my parents and know we did it,” Madison Winstead said. “Swimming has been my outlet, so to speak, in everything. It’s the one thing that’s remained very constant in my life, even through the ups and downs of the other aspects of my life.”

In January 2015, Shane Winstead was diagnosed with colon cancer with liver metastases. But despite the obstacle life had thrown at Madison Winstead and her mom, there remained one spot where Madison Winstead could go and forget the burdens — the pool.

“It’s been my getaway for the hard times and it’s been the best times of my life. And swimming has just helped me keep my sanity,” Madison Winstead said.

But nothing is guaranteed in life, and that is a reality she knows all too well.

In June of 2015, doctors told her family that her mother’s cancer had spread to her lungs and progressed to stage 4. Just as Madison Winstead battled overcoming adversity in the pool with her mother by her side, the script had dramatically flipped — Shane Winstead was now fighting her own battle against cancer with Madison by her side.

“The thing with Madison is she really has been a partner with us through a lot of the treatments, going to doctors visits, and going with me to the clinic,” Shane Winstead said. “She’s really part of the group I lean on for getting through this.”

Ranked as the 32nd best swimmer in the 2016 recruiting class and fourth in the state of Kentucky, according to College Swimming rankings, Madison was highly recruited, but she never considered UK as a possibility. Growing up in Lexington and having a mother who worked at UK in the College of Pharmacy, Madison Winstead felt as if it would be like staying at home.

“I visited 13 schools and had some things I wanted in a team,” Madison Winstead said. “I was big on team chemistry, I mean, I like when the coaches are very diverse.”

It wasn’t until her mother’s diagnosis in January 2015 that she finally began considering UK. After visiting a multitude of schools, she felt as if UK was the best fit for her and committed to the Cats in April.

“When I was around their team there was just no other team that got along as well. The coaches are very different and I love every aspect of it,” Madison said. “And then I want to go into pharmacy and UK is the fifth-ranked pharmacy program, so things just kind of fell into place. Now that I am here I couldn’t imagine packing up to go anywhere else. Lexington really is home, and (I’m) glad I am staying.”

With no guarantee her mother would be able to see her compete in the fall as a freshman, Madison wasn’t willing to take any chances.

NCAA rules restrict an athlete from participating in practices and competitions until they are enrolled and attending the university. With help from the UK Swim and Dive coaching staff, including head coach Lars Jorgensen, Madison sent a letter to the NCAA on March 16 requesting to be granted a one-time wavier to swim in UK’s inter-squad Blue-White scrimmage scheduled for April 22 so her mother would be guaranteed to see her swim in the Blue and White.

“I just wanted to ensure that my mom was going to get to see me swim at a meet,” Madison Winstead said.

After waiting a few weeks, the NCAA granted Madison a one-time waiver for her to compete in the inter-squad match in front of her mom.

When asked about what the moment will be like on Friday, Madison said, “I think just being in your first college meet period is pretty awesome, but knowing that this celebration of the journey and how far we have come, I think it will be a pretty cool experience for sure.”

So on Friday when Madison Winstead steps to the edge of the pool where her reflection beams off the water, it will be more than her lively childhood memories looking back at her. Her mom’s supportive spirit and emotional strength will be embedded in both the water and the stands.

Tickets to Friday’s Blue-White scrimage are free to the general public and can be picked up at the Lancaster Aquatic Center. The event begins at 4 p.m. Friday.