Men’s Swimming: Senior’s mother overcomes obstacles to see son’s final meet

John Paschall, Reporter

Mara Urizar was on her way to Oakland International Airport on Friday expecting a picture-perfect weekend with her son, senior Tim Smith. He swam for the last time at Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center on Saturday against the rival No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes.

Yet as she was pulling up to the departures drop-off at the Bay Area airport, she got the message that every traveler always fears.

“When I got to the airport, I had a text from Southwest,” Urizar said. “My flight to Chicago was cancelled.”

Not only was it cancelled, but all of the other flights that day were stopped because of Chicago-area weather. With less than 24 hours until her son’s final meet, Urizar had no way to get to Evanston.

But when she started telling people she wasn’t going to make it, friends kept pushing her to make it to Evanston at whatever cost.

Heartbroken, she went up to the Southwest Airlines counter and pleaded her case. The airline representative said the next flight to Chicago wasn’t until Saturday, the day of the meet. Tears started streaming down her face.

“I need to be here (in Evanston) by 10:30 a.m.,” she told the employee.

Urizar was able to squeeze her way onto a flight to Denver, where she hoped to get a connecting flight to Chicago.

She arrived in Denver, and the flight was still scheduled to take off. The nightmare was almost over.

Until she reached her gate.

“I get another text: cancelled.”

Stranded in Denver in the early evening, she called her cab driver, who was planning on picking her up at 8 p.m. at Chicago Midway International Airport, to tell him she wasn’t going to make it. But the cab driver, who had been friends with Urizar and Smith for four years, knew how much this meet meant to her.

Urizar said her driver told her, “You need to go.”

He then volunteered to pick up Urizar at Milwaukee, if she was able to get a flight there, and drive her to Evanston.

She worked her way onto a flight to Milwaukee, without her bag, and landed late Friday night. She, along with two other people who were scheduled to be on her original flight from Oakland, Calif. to Chicago, rode in the cab from Milwaukee, a ride that cost $170.

And at 1:10 a.m., Urizar’s nightmare was finally over. She had arrived in Evanston to be with her son.

“His face,” Urizar said of her son when she saw him. “He’s very stern, but he was breaking down.”

“I was pretty excited,” Smith said. “I wanted to swim well for her. She put in so much effort to come here.”

Urizar stayed at her son’s place for the night but didn’t have any of her luggage. It was still in Denver. She refused to show up at her son’s last home meet without wearing purple. So Urizar went to Beck’s Book Store at 10 a.m., picked up an NU T-shirt and headed to the meet. She said it was an incredibly special moment watching her son swim for the last time at SPAC.

“It was sad and special,” she said. “It’s been a very special place for Tim. He grew up a lot here. I’m very proud of him.”

As for the Big Ten Championships at the end of February in Ann Arbor, Mich., Urizar said nothing will stop her from going to her son’s last collegiate meet.

“I’ll be there,” Urizar said. “I’m waiting for Big Tens.”

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