Josh Zuchowski and Reese Branzell are two of the best young swimmers in Florida. They routinely swap first and second place finishes. The two boys are rivals and good friends. Josh certainly expected to see and compete against Reese in the annual Santa Claus Swim Invitational last December. However, their friendly rivalry would be placed on hold as nine-year-old Josh learned that Reese had been hospitalized and could not compete. Reese was suffering from a bacterial infection in his hip. After an initial nine-day hospital stay in November, Reese, 10 at the time, was sent home to continue his recovery. An arm infection and blood clot then developed.
The ordeal kept Reese in the hospital for almost a month as doctors had a difficult time clearing the infection from his system. Josh and his family were unaware of the trouble Reese was having. Josh’s dad, Jonathan Zuchowski, said, “When we didn’t see Reese’s name at the meet, we thought he just isn’t healthy enough to compete, but we didn’t think he was at the hospital.”
Upon hearing the news, Josh’s focus shifted. Instead of competing for himself, he decided to compete for Reese. Jonathan told HLN TV, “It wasn’t his fastest time, but that moment he was swimming for Reese. He was winning for Reese.” Josh won the trophy as the Santa Claus Swim Invitational’s top overall swimmer, then immediately gave the trophy to Reese’s coach along with a card for Reese that read:
I am so sorry that you have not been feeling well. Get well soon so we can get back to battling in the pool. I have looked up to you since I was seven. You were an inspiration for me wanting to swim fast. I would rather get second with you at the meet than win with you absent. I won this trophy for you today. I hope to see you back in the pool. Your friend, Josh.
Both Reese and his dad Derek were nothing short of amazed by Josh’s gesture. “I was speechless,” Derek told HLN. “I didn’t know what to say. A 9-year-old did this on his own. It was amazing.”
Reese echoed his father’s sentiments. “I thought that was amazing that he worked so hard and he got a well-earned trophy and then decided to pass it on to me. I think we just got a closer friendship after he did that.”
Josh’s well wishes may have helped the healing process as Reese returned to the pool in early 2014. The two boys resumed their rivalry and competed in several meets throughout the spring and summer.