Purple Caps + Natalie


You can’t be on the OSHY team for too long without seeing a purple NKB cap. We wear NKB caps and blue OSHY caps interchangeably as our team caps. This is some of the Natalie story.  


Natalie swam for the OSHY team for 9-10 years, with her 3 sisters Leah, Stephanie, and Ashley. There wasn’t much about swimming that Natalie didn’t love – practices, meets, teammates, friends from other teams, team travel, camp – she loved it all, she did it all. On Feb 20, 2010 Natalie, her sister Leah, and OSHY teammates Rachel and Jenn traveled down to Madison to cheer on their friends at the WIAA Boys State High School Swim Championships. On the trip back, they were in an accident. Natalie didn’t survive. Leah, Rachel, and Jenn were seriously injured.   

The next week was filled with daily trips to the hospital and nightly gatherings at churches, hospitals, the YMCA, and the pool. We tried to balance the grief of losing Natalie with the miracle that Leah, Rachel, and Jenn survived. We tried to find ways to support. We tried to find ways to cope, to honor, to remember.

Natalie’s funeral was Friday, Feb 26. People poured in from everywhere. Her life had touched far more people than anyone could have realized. No one, not her family, not her teammates, not her coaches realized how many people she had touched. Everyone had a Natalie story. Everyone had a person experience with her.


As we struggled through the week the idea of purple swim caps took hold. The purple caps helped us feel together with each other and connected with her. We talked about connecting with others like she did. We talked about having a positive attitude like she did. We talked about taking pride in the work like she did. We order 1000 and then another 1000. Soon everyone was wearing purple caps. At the YMCA State Meet 4 weeks later it was a sea of purple, almost everyone from every team wore a purple cap. As time has passed the caps have come to symbolize the connection we have with each other and the choice that we have everyday to see the positive in the world instead of the negative. “I know the sun will rise.”


The day after her funeral, Feb 27, would have been Natalie’s 17th birthday. Swimmers from all over gathered at the Oshkosh YMCA to pay tribute to her. Natalie’s favorite event was the 500 free. In her honor we swam 17 x 500. Natalie’s goal had always been to break 5:00, her best was 5:06. Before anyone started their 17th 500 we stopped and asked the group if anyone wanted to get up on the blocks and try to break 5:00 for Natalie. 8 swimmers climbed up. One of Natalie’s friends, Jake, did it. After the swim everyone went to the Bolin home for a Swedish pancake meal, a family tradition.

Every year since we have marked Natalie’s birthday with the Natalie Birthday Swim, Blood Drive (Natalie had just started donating blood before she passed) and Swedish Pancake meal. We no longer swim 500’s, but rather 25’s, 50’s, 75’s, or 100’s, swimming 1 for each year Natalie would be. This year will be 26. The Natalie Birthday Swim has also become the fundraiser for the NKB Camp we hold every summer.



Of all the things that we did, Natalie had loved camp in Ely, MN more than anything else. It was a whole week with her friends having fun swimming, running, kayaking, hiking, and playing. In the days after her passing we started talking about keeping her spirit alive by running a camp every summer in Ely, bring together swimmers from different teams, giving them the experiences that Natalie loved, emphasizing the connections between people, positive attitude, and the enjoyment of nature and physical effort.

This will be the 10th NKB Camp. We have served over 200 campers and had almost 100 leaders. We have had swimmers from all over the country. We have kept Natalie’s spirit alive by changing the lives of everyone that has been involved. NKB Camp (and Middle School Camp) are the best things that we do.

Next week we will talk with all of the groups about Natalie, about the Natalie Birthday swim, and about helping raise money to make NKB Camp possible.