CSU swimmers had cheers, hugs for Wyoming rivals after crash killed three: “It’s important to be neighbors and not just rivals”

Tragedy makes for strange bedfellows. And even stranger face tattoos.

“The cowboy faces forward,” Megan Hager explained late Friday night.

“We wanted to be sure (it was right). When the parents were handing them out, they said, ‘OK, everybody, make sure you put it on your cheek with the faces forward.’ Be as respectful as we can be.”

The catch? Hager’s a senior freestyle swimmer at CSU. She spent Friday at the Mountain West meet being fitted for Wyoming face tattoos.

“Historically, I’d say there’s been a strong disdain,” Hager laughed, “similar to the football game. Chanting of, ‘It (stinks) to be a CSU Ram.’ That kind of stuff. I’ve been baaaaa-ed at.”

Yet there were Rams and Cowboys and Cowgirls swimmers Friday in Houston, hugging each other, arm-in-arm. Two schools. One community.

Three members of Wyoming’s swimming and diving team were killed and two others were injured Thursday on U.S. 287 just south of the Colorado-Wyoming state line when the SUV they were in reportedly rolled off the road. The accident took the lives of Charlie Clark, a sophomore from Las Vegas; Luke Slabber, a sophomore from Cape Town, South Africa; and Carson Muir, a freshman from Birmingham, Ala.

During the conference meet, every MW team wore something to honor the Pokes. Each program gave out yellow roses to the Cowboys contingent. There was a moment of silence before the evening session.

Hager, like her teammates, swam Friday with the words “WYO” and a heart down her arm, written in Sharpie, and a temporary Cowboy/Cowgirl tattoo on her cheek. That was … new.

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“But I’m really glad that we did,” Hager told The Post. “And glad that Wyoming was open to being receptive to this and receptive to the support, too.

“It’s just heartbreaking. I know a lot of us were not OK. It’s really difficult to see so much grief … and then knowing that we have to compete and we’ll keep competing, but I think it’s just as important to be neighbors and not just rivals.”

And the Pokes swimmers?

“I don’t think anybody (over there was) OK,” she replied.

“Frankly, I’m surprised and I’m impressed with, and I commend, their ability to still be here. Because, frankly, I don’t think I could — I frankly couldn’t have been after receiving such news; I think I would have withdrawn from the meet and gone home as soon as possible, to be completely frank. But there they are, they’re showing up and they’re doing really well, still. And I think it’s incredible and a real testament to their (toughness), what it means to be Cowgirl Tough, and I think they’re really showing everybody that right now.”

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Before the 200 freestyle relay, a Wyoming swimmer, senior Kali Franckowiak, gave each of her Rams competitors a hug.

That was new, too.

“We did a ‘Go Cowgirls’ cheer before prelims,” Hager said.

“We do have a healthy rivalry. But I think our coach said it well (the other) night, when he was making a note of how much we respect them as rivals and how much they push us to be better athletes and to compete harder. They make us better.”

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