TAMPA — No one can know for sure, but it's quite possible that somewhere in China there is a mom wondering what happened to her baby girl.
The baby was 6 months old in 1995 when the mom left her alone on a bench in a train station in a town named Wuhu.
Where did she end up? Is she safe? Did she survive?
Tears well from the baby's adoptive parents, Bill Waite and Lynda McDermott, who traveled back to that train station in 2007 to see where their little girl was found.
“We stood in front of the wooden bench where she was left and just cried,” Waite said. “We finally got some real sense of how sad it must have been like for that mother to leave her baby. We felt a connection to the beginning.
“I wish somehow we could let that mother know that her baby turned out so beautiful and strong and wonderful. I wish I could tell her that little girl has brought nothing but joy into this world.”
The little baby, Carylyn WuMan Waite, lights up a thousand-watt smile and says, “I think my (birth parents) made a great decision. Great move on their part.”
Always smiling is Carylyn Waite.
Smiling when she talks about the decision of her birth mother: “I understand that (because of China's population control 'One-child policy') they were probably taking a risk having me (subject to devastating fines or even jail). They also were taking a chance leaving me in such a public place. They could have gotten caught, but thankfully they were not and because it was a public place, I was found.”
Smiling when she talks about her adopted parents: “Mom and Dad are the greatest.”
And, of course, smiling when she talks about swimming, which has been something she's done every day — “And I do mean every single day,” Bill Waite said — since she got her first swim lesson at 2.
“If I don't swim every day it doesn't feel right,” said Carylyn, who graduated this month from Tampa Prep with a swimming scholarship to the Division II Assumption College in Massachusetts. “One day it was even freezing but I told dad I had to swim, but when I got in I said, 'It's too cold.' So that swim didn't last too long.”
“I swear she's part fish,” Bill Waite said.
In the first days that Bill and Lynda met Carylyn in a Chinese orphanage, Carylyn was 13 months old, 13 inches long, and 13 pounds, or about half the weight of many babies the same age.
“We were going over what she was eating and all that kind of thing and even then when the (orphanage workers) were giving her to us, they told us, 'She loves her bath,'” Lynda said. “That was so true. She was never happier than when she was in the water.”
That's why, after a few years of swimming faster and faster in clubs in New York City (where Lynda's and Bill's business is based), Lynda began researching more intense swimming programs across the country.
And that's how Carylyn ended up at Tampa Bay Aquatics and then Academy Aquatic Club, while living on Bill's 42-foot, dual-cabin power boat for almost two years, a few blocks from the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg (while Lynda traveled back and forth from New York for business).
“I thought living on a boat was pretty cool,” Carylyn said. “How many people can say they lived on a boat?”
All the while, Carylyn swam. And swam. And swam. Sometimes five or six hours a day.
Some of the highlights included breaking a 20-year-old Tampa Prep school record in the 100 breaststroke (since broken), and helping the 200 medley relay in 2012 and the 200 free relay in 2011 set school records as well. Other highlights, she said, include “getting a great education at Tampa Prep,” and simply “feeling blessed every day.”
“She's come so far,” Bill Waite said. “From that bench in that train station to coming into our lives to a college swimming scholarship. She has worked so hard and never, ever, complained about anything. What a story it is.
“What a blessing she has been.”