New Canaan senior swimmer Maddie Haley is a school record-holder in the 100-yard backstroke and has twice struck gold at the Class L championships during a stellar four-year career with the Rams.
Even with that swim success, her best achievement has come away from the pool.
In 2017, Haley started Caps for a Cause, a charitable program which helps spread the word about swim safety and distributes gently-used swim gear to under-privileged communities. During the pandemic this year, she shifted gears and has focused on helping area food pantries.
Haley will be taking her swim career, as well as Caps for a Cause, to Washington, D.C., next fall after signing her National Letter of Intent to swim for Georgetown University.
Taking the next step is a dream come true for the Ram captain.
“I have loved swimming ever since I was a child and I remember growing up and looking at all these collegiate meets and athletes and thinking I really want to be like them,” Haley said. “I’m super blessed to be given the opportunity to swim for four more years at a really amazing school, and to be able to bring Caps for a Cause to college. That was extremely important to me and it weighed into my decision.”
New Canaan coach Kat Munson called Haley “one of the most versatile swimmers” she’s coached, high praise in a program which annually features some of the state’s top performers.
“She is above and beyond in the sense I could put her in any event and she would be in contention for a state title,“ Munson said. “That’s not something a lot of swimmers are capable of achieving, but Maddie is exceptional that way.”
Although the swim season was abbreviated by the pandemic, Haley was fortunate to have the chance to visit several college campuses, including Georgetown, before schools shut down in March.
She was unsure of what she wanted in college, but when she visited the Georgetown campus in February, something clicked.
”Right when I stepped on campus, I knew that this was the place for me,” Haley said. “I was on campus, went to the pool, and had dinner with some of the girls on the team. (After that), I really just could not see myself anywhere else.”
The offer came from Hoyas’ coach Jack Leavitt in June, and Haley’s course was set.
She also made it a point to discuss volunteer programs at Georgetown, as well as bringing Caps for a Cause to a new area.
“I wanted to choose a school that really gave back to the community,” she said.
Haley began Caps for a Cause following the near-drowning of a five-year-old New Canaan boy at Chelsea Piers in Stamford in 2017.
She began traveling around Connecticut, promoting water safety and also collecting and distributing swim gear.
“I wanted to help make swimming more accessible to children in underprivileged communities,” Haley said.
As of 2020, Haley has hand-delivered more than 1,000 swimsuits, caps and goggles to children in need, learn-to-swim programs, and clubs. The growth of Caps for a Cause was a surprise, even to Haley.
“I was definitely not expecting it to grow to this level,” she said. “I have four siblings and we all swim so I had a ton of gear to give to my charity, but it really made me happy to see there were other people willing to donate.”
Local YMCAs, including the New Canaan Y, have contributed as well, even donating their lost and found bins.
“It shows her generosity and her initiative,” Munson said of Caps for a Cause. “This is something she did on her own and spear-headed. She’s reached out for assistance and support, but she already had a plan in place and got the momentum going.”
In the pool at New Canaan, Haley etched her name in the school record book with a program-best time of 56.02 in the 100 backstroke. She won two Class L titles in that event, and was the runner-up at the 2019 State Open by just three-hundredths of a second.
Haley was All-State and All-FCIAC West in the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley this season, and was named to the GameTimeCT All-State first team.
Munson said Haley was the team’s top choice to be a captain and the program allowed her to flourish.
“High School swimming increased her passion for the sport and made her love being part of a team,” Munson said. “Maddie fell in love with being a part of something greater than herself, and it led to her becoming her best self.”
Haley has already met most of the Hoyas team and has developed relationships with some of her future teammates, which should make the transition to college life smooth.
“I’m really excited to meet new people from different parts of the world and the United States, and people with different backgrounds,” Haley said.
As for the teammates she’s leaving behind in New Canaan, including younger sister Kelci, a sophomore, Haley has some advice.
“Just have fun with the sport.” Haley said. “It can be super stressful sometimes, and it really goes by so, so fast, but high school swimming can be so much fun.”