Wallenpaupack Area's Baileigh Vanderhoof will continue her athletic career collegiately.
Baileigh Vanderhoof has been battling the odds since the very moment she arrived on the scene.
One of triplets born nearly three months premature to Lynne & Ray Vanderhoof, Baileigh couldn't even breathe on her own during the first days of her life.
However, the fighting spirit she's displayed from birth served Baileigh well in every aspect of her life ... emotionally, academically and athletically.
"When Baileigh was a little girl, she looked up at me and said 'Oh, Mommy, I'm definitely going to get a swimming scholarship someday,'" Lynne recalled, a shimmer in her eye and a catch in her throat.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think way back then that this day would ever come."
As the years passed, though, Baileigh grew stronger and more confident. Suddenly those aspirations seemed increasingly realistic.
Finally, that fateful day did arrive ... the day Baileigh officially signed her Letter of Intent to swim collegiately at Rider University.
Wallenpaupack Area school officials, coaches and faculty members gathered in the high school conference room Friday afternoon to witness Vanderhoof sealing the deal on her NCAA Division I swimming scholarship.
"As her Mom and her coach, I couldn't possibly be any prouder," Lynne said.
"Baileigh has always been so determined and focused. She's worked incredibly hard and I'm so happy for her."
For her part, Baileigh is equal parts happy and relieved. The process of choosing a college has been long and arduous. However, now that it's over, Baileigh can't wait to begin this next exciting chapter in her life.
"I love my school and my team and my teammates," Baileigh said. "Part of me would like to stay here forever. But, part of me wants to leave and get started today. I'm really excited about everything."
Michael Wolbert, Baileigh's YMCA coach since age 12, was also on hand and thrilled to see the culmination of so much hard work.
"The first thing I noticed about Baileigh was how hard she worked and how much she liked to compete," Coach Wolbert said. "She's always been a really spunky kid and I loved working with her."
By the Numbers
Four years ago, when Baileigh arrived at Wallenpaupack Area High School, there was no district-sponsored varsity swim team.
That didn't stop the Vanderhoof Family from building a highly successful program, though, one that just this year was finally embraced fully by Paupack.
As a freshman, Baileigh made her presence felt at both the Lackawanna League and District Two levels.
She swam her way to D-2 and Regional gold medals in the 100M butterfly, which resulted in a first-ever trip to the PIAA State Championships.
"That was pretty amazing," Baileigh said. "It was an awesome experience. It made me work even harder."
That blue collar work ethic served Vanderhoof well over the next three years.
As a sophomore, Baileigh took silver in the 100M butterfly and the 100M breastroke at the league championships. She also qualified and competed at the YMCA Nationals and was a USA Junior Olympic champion.
Last winter, Vanderhoof took her game to the next level. Baileigh captured gold medals in the 200M individual medley at districts and regionals, which resulted in another berth at the state meet.
Additionally, her time of 2:13.10 set a brand new District Two record, breaking a mark that had stood since 2005. She is the defending Lackawanna League champ in the 200 IM and placed second in the 100M breaststroke.
"Baileigh is a great kid and it's been a joy coaching her," Wolbert said. "I can't wait to see what she can accomplish at the next level.
Vanderhoof had more than 30 schools competing for her services. She visited perennial powers like Georgetown, Lafayette and Lehigh before heading to Rider.
"I just liked everything about Rider," Baileigh said.
"The coach was great, I loved the school and the team made me feel so welcome and comfortable."
Last season, under the direction of Coach Steve Fletcher, the Broncs' men's squad captured another MAAC title and the women finished second.
Vanderhoof is setting her sights high academically as well. Baileigh will major in biology at Rider with an eye toward going pre-med. She is a member of the National Honor Society.