WESTPORT, Conn. – The sanctuary of Westport’s Christ & Holy Trinity Church was not large enough to accommodate the hundreds of people who came together Tuesday afternoon to remember Westport teen and swimmer Bradley Helt, a junior at Fairfield Prep who died April 9.
At least 250 people from Westport and beyond filled the pews, sat in folding chairs or stood in the back of the sanctuary, while many more gathered in the church’s Great Hall to watch a live video stream of the funeral service.
Quiet cries could be heard throughout the church, especially as Bradley’s father, shared memories of his son's childhood. Peter Helt recalled how he and Bradley developed a prerace ritual in which he would blow a whistle to get Bradley’s attention and then give him a thumbs-up.
“I’d like to signal one last time to Bradley,” Helt said in a cracked voice, making a thumbs-up. “Good luck, buddy boy — safe journey. May God be with you every step of the way. Know that we all love you dearly and will never, ever, forget you.”
Bradley, 16, was an accomplished swimmer. He was a member of the Fairfield Prep swim team and the Wilton Y Wahoos Swim Club. He also participated in the annual 15 ½-mile Swim Across the Sound benefit for St. Vincent’s Medical Center. Before high school, he swam with the Westport Family Y Water Rats teams.
Bradley grew up in Westport and attended Long Lots Elementary and Coleytown Middle School before going to Prep.
When Bradley’s “infectious” sense of humor was recalled, moments of laughter broke up the crying.
“Brad brought happiness to the team and to everyone around him,” Fairfield Prep teacher and swim coach Bruce Jaffe said. “No matter how difficult a day might have been, Brad would make a fool of himself and do something that had people laughing.”
A burst of laughter erupted from the church as Jaffe recalled a time Bradley’s Lycra swimsuit had become so thin from overuse, it practically dissolved during a practice.
“If we have a day that’s just too much, or a day when we’re downtrodden, think of Bradley’s infectious sense of humor and willingness to do anything to help us get through. That was his gift to us.”