In the 1990s, Claudia Ruth Clement Lamparzyk was one of Guam’s best competitive swimmers, winning bronze medals at the South Pacific Games in both Papua New Guinea and Tahiti.
On Nov. 16, the 42-year-old mother of two boys, Eli Bear, 7, and Isaak Wolf, 5, and wife of Matt Lamparzyk, whom she met while he was stationed on Guam, died after a courageous battle with ovarian cancer. She is also survived by Michael Clement Sr., father; Rosemary Clement, mother; and Michael Clement, brother.
“Claudia was a very kind and energetic swimmer,” said Frank Flores, friend and 1995 SPG swim team captain. “She always worked so hard and she won a bronze medal in the South Pacific Games in 1995 for an event she really didn’t like.”
Leading up to the bronze-medal performance, Clement Lamparzyk hadn’t given any thought to competing in the 400-meter individual medley. She had always fancied the freestyle and racing against the region’s best athletes in the grueling four-stroke race wasn’t something she wanted to meddle with.
"She kind of looked at me, ‘Coach, why the hell did you enter me in that? That’s not my event,’” said Guam Swimming Federation President Ed Ching, remembering the conversation.
“‘You’re good in the IM. You have good strokes,’” Ching remembers telling her.
“She won a bronze medal and she thanked me for that, which was unusual. A lot of guys don’t say, ‘Thanks, coach,’” he said. “But, she thanked me for it and she did well. And she was surprised.”
Twenty-five years later, Flores remembers the swim.
“I remember how surprised she was when she won the bronze medal,” he said. “And, I really loved seeing the joy and excitement on her face. Before she won the medal, she finished the race, looked up, and just realized she won … and she was jumping up and down on the deck and thanked coach for signing her up for an event that she didn’t really want to swim.”
Her determination and drive for greatness never faded, sticking with her long after leaving Guam for the states.
After graduating from John F. Kennedy High School, Clement Lamparzyk enrolled into the University of Massachusetts and earned a spot on the Women’s Water Polo Team. While at UMass, she became one of the Minutemen’s top scorers. In February 2000, while competing in the Princeton Invitational against the University of Indiana, she scored four goals and helped secure the 8-3 victory.
In 2000, in NCAA Division I water polo, UMass was ranked No. 8 in the nation.
“She was at one time one of the best female water polo players in the country,” Flores said. “She was being considered for the U.S. Olympic team.”
“She was always trying to push herself to be the best version of herself that she could,” said Darrick Bollinger, Clement Lamparzyk’s friend and teammate at SPG Tahiti. “She was still a fun person to be around. Not the kind of person that pushes herself and pushes everyone away while doing it.”
Bollinger said that she was definitely a good person.
“She pushed herself to be great. On top of that, she remained a very humble, very easygoing person,” he added.
Throughout life, Clement Lamparzyk never settled and her desire to leave the world a better place never diminished. Leading up to her death, she had been pursuing a Master of Science at Yale University in Orange, Connecticut. Seeking a nurse-midwifery specialization, she wanted to make a difference in the lives of women and newborns.
While she died before finishing the program, in a private, outdoor ceremony, with her mother and professors surrounding her as she lay in a hospital bed, the university awarded her an honorary degree.
“We thought she was going to beat this. She thought she was going to beat this,” said Barb Pexa, a friend and Team Guam swim team member in Tahiti.
Less that two month before Clement Lamparzyk’s death, the two had spoken.
Pexa said that her friend's mind was sharp, although her voice had been ravaged by the numerous treatments.
Pexa added that she was surprised to learn that Clement Lamparzyk's health had declined and she had entered hospice care.
“I spoke to her,” Pexa said. “I think it was about six weeks ago and she had been released from the hospital and was doing pretty well.”
Pexa said that her former teammate had an unmatched level of determination and a fighting spirit.
“Her strength felt so steadfast,” Pexa added.
Although Clement Lamparzyk moved from Guam a quarter of a century ago, the impact she made on the island’s swimming community lives on.
“We had a friendship forged in the fire of swimming competition,” Bollinger said.
He added that at the time there weren’t a whole lot of female swimmers, but she was one of the better ones.
“When we did train, she pushed herself really hard, always trying to get better,” he said.
A little help can go a long way
When Manhoben Swim Club members and officials learned of Clement Lamparzyk's condition, they set up a GoFundMe page.
“Initially, when we found about her condition, right away, there was a lot of outpouring of support and love for her,” Bollinger said.
“‘You know, guys, … Matt’s going to be left by himself with two little kids,’” said Pexa, recalling the conversation that kicked off the fundraising campaign.
To donate, please click on the following link:
“Thirty years later, the swim team still has her back,” Pexa said.
Before joining Manhoben, Clement Lamparzyk had begun to establish herself as one of the island’s best swimmers.
In the early 1990s, under head coach Frank Whitman, she swam for the Manukai Athletic Club.
Whitman recalled a historic swim during the 1991 Papua New Guinea SPG that launched Clement Lamparzyk’s journey into greatness.
Earlier at the games, Guam’s female relay team had already missed the podium twice and a third would have meant disaster.
With Clement Lamparzyk anchoring the 400-meter medley relay, one of the Games' final events, Guam won bronze.
“Claudia just swam her heart out,” Whitman said.
“‘I was so afraid, so scared they were going to beat me,’” Whitman recalled Clement Lamparzyk telling him.
“She willed that medal to happen,” he said. “It was her heroic effort that made the difference.”
“We were always so proud of her,” Flores said.
“We’re going to miss her,” Ching said.