As a high school junior, Rileigh Eding won the MHSAA Division III state championship in the 100-yard backstroke. Going into the race, Eding was nervous and moving around a lot, and after a runner-up finish her sophomore year, she wanted to touch the wall first. After competing in the 200-freestyle relay directly before the 100 backstroke, she only remembers how much it hurt after going through both races.
However, all of the hard work paid off. Eding finished about a second and a half better than her previous personal record, but the thing that stood out more than anything was the reaction of her coach and the feeling once the race was over.
“I remember looking at my coach and he was crying, and it just felt like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders because I had gone through so much the year before,” she recalled. “It was really a breakthrough moment for me.”
Eding was just a freshman in high school when she found out that she had a benign brain tumor that caused minor seizures. After finding out, doctors scheduled surgery right away, but it was canceled about two weeks before she was supposed to go under the knife. Her doctors told her that the risk of taking out the tumor was higher than leaving it in.
“It was really the ups and downs emotionally that I had to recover from. My high school coach helped me through it a lot and he understood,” she explained.
Now as a sophomore in college and a part of the Albion College women’s swim and dive team, Eding still has the tumor and is persevering just as she did in high school.
“She doesn’t do things to be seen or noticed or for recognition. She just has a quiet calm and confidence about her business,” said Albion swim and dive head coach Jake Taber. “While some people are looking for you to notice that they are there or how they are working, she just goes about her business every day working to the best of her ability.”
Eding’s mother, Erica, was a swimmer at Hope College, and she put Rileigh into age group swimming when she was about seven years old. When Rileigh was 12, she began swimming year-round and in high school, Eding won multiple awards and state championships.
After swimming for Oakland University for a year, Eding transferred to Albion to continue swimming. At Oakland, she competed in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles, the 100-yard backstroke and the 100-yard butterfly. So far this season at Albion, Eding has been awarded MIAA Swimmer of the Week on two separate occasions and has won numerous races in the 50-yard freestyle, 50-yard butterfly and the team 200-freestyle relay.
The transition from a Division I to a Division III program wasn’t all that different to her, but she claims the Division III style is a little less intense than Division I programs.
“It’s a little more intense at a Division I school, so it was kind of like a pressure release to come to a Division III school,” said Eding. “It’s not that it’s easier here because it’s still a collegiate swimming program, but it’s more that people are swimming here because they want to, not because they’re getting paid to [with scholarships].”
Although the tumor doesn’t affect her daily life, she still gets localized seizures on the left half of her mouth. Doctors have given her seizure medication because there’s a risk that the seizures could get worse, but luckily for Eding, they have not.
For many people, this bump in the road could have spelled the end to their sports career. If Eding could go back in time and talk to the girl who was diagnosed with a brain tumor as a freshman in high school, she has one simple message for her past self: it will be okay.
“I would just tell her that it’s going to work out in the end because it always does. I think at that point in time, I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. There are many worse things that I could go through, and just never stop working towards what you want, even if there’s a few bumps in the road.”
Photo courtesy of Albion Athletics.