Kunnapas Receives Craig Beardsley Award Named in Honor of Current Chatham Resident

Hasbrouck Heights native Lia Kunnapas receives the Craig Beardsley Award from Lauren Syre, NJPMA Swim Championship Committee Chairperson. Credits: Photo Courtesy of Lia Kunnapas

HILLSDALE, NJ -  Hasbrouck Heights native Lia Kunnapas received the Craig Beardsley Award from the New Jersey Pool Manager's Association at its Championship meet on Saturday. The award is given annually by the NJPMA to the person whose activities best represent unselfish devotion and significant contributions in swimming as exemplified by Craig Beardsley, who now resides in Chatham.

Beardsley is a Northern Valley High School at Old Tappan graduate and held the world record in the 200-meter butterfly from 1980 to 1983. Beardsley qualified for the ill-fated 1980 Summer Olympic team, but never competed due to President Carter’s decision to boycott the 1980 Games in Moscow, due to the Russian involvement in Afghanistan.

After failing to qualify for the 1984 Olympic team by finishing third at the Olympic trials by 0.36 seconds, Beardsley retired from competitive swimming, and became active in Swim Across America, and has been a celebrity swimmer in their charity events since 1987. 

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“It's an honor to have been nominated and win the NJPMA Craig Beardsley award and be able to join some wonderful people who have had a big impact on New Jersey swimming,” Kunnapas said.

Kunnapas, who a teaches at her alma mater, Immaculate Heart High School in the Township of Washington, serves as head coach of both the Immaculate Heart High School girls swim team and the Bergen Catholic High School boys swim team. In her first season as head coach at both schools, the traditional powers did not skip a beat. Bergen Catholic won their third straight Bergen County title, while captured its 27th consecutive league title, and its 19th Bergen County title and s tenth consecutive state title. 

She became head coach at both school’s after previously serving as an assistant coach at both schools, and then becoming, for one season, the men’s and women’s head swim coach at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City.  

She made history last year when she was appointed head coach at Bergen Catholic, becoming the first woman to be a head coach at the all-boys high school.

A four-year All-Patriot League swimmer at Colgate, she took multiple titles in the backstroke and freestroke, as well as anchoring Patriot league champion relays in the 400 and 800-free.  She was named the school’s Most Valuable Swimmer in 2012 and 2013.  Kunnapas received All-American honors in her senior year in the 200 and 400 free relays and qualified for the 2008 USA Swimming Junior National Championships and the Senior National Event.

Swim Across America Inc., (SAA) is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment by hosting open water and pool benefit swim events across the US. SAA events have raised over $65 million since its inception. Money raised by SAA supports world-renowned hospitals, laboratories and clinics, including the Swim Across America lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Kunnapas youngest sister, Kristen, is entering her second year swimming for Fairfield University, and is currently the Hasbrouck Heights Swim Club swim team head coach. 

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