Linda Bloom bled blue and red as the head coach of the Marshalltown girls swim team for 24 years.
Though today, in pools across central Iowa, purple will be flowing through the water in the form of special swim caps made to memorialize the Bobcat swimming icon on her birthday and help raise pancreatic cancer awareness.
Bloom, who passed away on Dec. 13, 2011, after an 11-month battle with pancreatic cancer, inspired hundreds both inside and outside the pool. Now, the Bloom family hopes the purple swim caps continue that tradition, while also encouraging more to learn about one of the deadliest forms of cancer.
“It was a way to accomplish encouraging swimmers, remembering Linda and publicizing pancreatic cancer,” said Mike Bloom, Linda’s husband, who came up with the concept along with his daughters – Anne and Katie.
The purple swim caps – adorned with the Pancreatic Cancer Network ribbon – were sent to every team in the Central Iowa Metropolitan League, as well as Muscatine, where Mike Bloom grew up and swam in high school. The caps, which read ‘Fight Pancreatic Cancer’ and ‘In memory of Linda Bloom,’ came with a sheet of paper providing information about pancreatic cancer, Linda and one of her favorite workouts she would give to her swimmers.
The Bloom family hopes the headgear inspires each swimmer to achieve their best times in pursuit of qualifying for the state swim meet – hosted in Marshalltown at the Linda Bloom Natatorium, which was dedicated in Linda’s name in the spring of 2011 at a special alumni swim meet in her honor.
Inspiring others was an inherent quality in Bloom, who brought out the best in each of her swimmers, regardless of talent level.
“She just had this way of creating a vision and making all the girls buy in to working really hard and believe in something. That’s not something that everyone can do,” said Marshalltown girls swim coach Angie Nelson, who coached alongside Bloom for a couple seasons.
“Some of us can go through the motions and think we’re all on board, but we have a hard time getting a whole team to buy in to what we’re talking about. (Linda) just had a special way of making that the expectation and those girls wanted to live up to that expectation.”
Bloom’s all-in mentality came to fruition numerous times as her team claimed a state runner-up finish in 1994, with just 13 members on the squad. The Bobcats also took second in 2006 and 2007 under Bloom’s watch.
Any lack of numbers or abilities never deterred Bloom’s excitement for the sport and her swimmers, which spread to each member she coached.
“You knew you were going to be good. No matter what our team looked like, no matter how many girls,” said Shelly Lechnir, who swam for Bloom before later assisting on her coaching staff from 1999 to 2006.
“She didn’t know how to lose.”
That concept proved true time and again, including when the Bobcats knocked off eventual state champion Mason City in 1989 – in the Mohawks’ home pool. Marshalltown defeated Mason City 19 years in a row and the heightened expectations for the program hold strong to this day.
“(Linda) did wonderful things with Marshalltown in swimming and diving,” said Mason City coach Steve Hugo, who coached against Bloom since the mid-80s.
The Mohawk coach has a similar mantra for his squad each time they prepare to face the Bobcats – “Rise to the occasion, Marshalltown is coming.”
Those heightened expectations carried over for swimmers of all ages as Bloom also led the summer swim program for 25 years.
Bobcat senior Leah Barkema joined the summer squad as a 10-year old, and though she didn’t get to swim under Bloom’s tutelage in high school – the former Bobcat coach’s mentoring role remained long after she set aside the clipboard.
“Even if she wasn’t your coach, she would be up in the stands and sometimes she would call you over and give you a little advice,” Barkema said. “You always listen to Linda.”
Bloom, who was named the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s Swim Coach of the Year in 2005 and the 1993 Iowa State Swimming Coach of the Year, left a lasting impact on her athletes that outweighed any of her coaching accolades.
“She was one of those people you were just lucky enough to meet and get to know better,” said MHS senior swimmer Chloe Kuehner. “The things she taught us and the things she instilled in this program will live on forever.”
One lesson the Bloom family hopes Linda’s legacy and the caps can serve is aiding in the fight against pancreatic cancer whether it be through research, fundraising or simply spreading the word. And that legacy is built upon a person getting the most out of themselves and their peers.
“She was the kind of person that made everyone around her better,” Mike Bloom said. “She expected a lot of herself and of the people surrounding her. She didn’t ever let you give up on yourself. In her mind anything was possible if you worked hard enough. She taught a lot of people that lesson – including me.”
Bloom never lowered her guard in her battle against cancer as she continually showed up at practices and home meets to support the Bobcat program even as the illness sapped her strength. That show of support was reciprocal as many former athletes, coaches, family and friends turned out for the alumni swim meet and renaming of the natatorium in Bloom’s honor.
“She had tremendous class and a dignity at which she went through her fight,” said MHS boys swim coach Mike Loupee.
“She projected an image that she would not be beaten. That might be the end message she left with everyone.”
Bloom coached the Marshalltown girls golf team for 12 years. She also served on the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s board of directors for seven years and played an integral role in adding seats to the Community YMCA pool in Marshalltown to accommodate the state swim meet.