Thank you CoachJune 23, 2012
At the end of your life, I think it’s some kind of testament to the person you are, when girls you coached some 13 years ago, and haven’t seen in ten are absolutely rocked to the core that it is in fact…. the end. I think that the fact that they have all reconnected in preparation, that they are sharing tears and memories together, even though it’s been a long time, is a statement.
My college swim coach is at the end of his life. When you go into hospice it’s not like you are hoping for some miracle cure, miracle answer. It’s not even kind of the end. It’s the end.
How do you say good-bye to someone who has had such an incredible influence over who you are and who you have become?
You remember what they taught you.
So Coach…… here are the lessons I learned from you. And they really have nothing to do with the pool.
1. The water is transparent: I was a distance swimmer in college and when you are distance swimmers you are few and far between. There were two of us. Myself and Sunshine. Coach gave Sunshine her name….. because she was depressed. She was depressed and I was in the height of my career as a Bulimic. We were perfect teammates. She swam with her heart and I swam with my head. We spent a billion yards together. Sets as a distance swimmer get pretty long.
One of our standard sets was 30 X 100 on a time interval with a ceiling. Often we did the set descending, so we’d begin with the 100′s on 2:00 and hold a ceiling of 1:10. Meaning we’d come in on the 1:10. The set would end up with the last 5 X 100 on 1:11 with a ceiling of 1:10. Do that set enough and you about lose your mind.
Every now and then we’d hide. Or think we could. We’d go to the bottom of the pool in the deep end. Thinking we weren’t able to be seen. Yes, we were educated college girls and we would hide on the bottom of the pool.
“You girls didn’t think I saw you on the bottom of the pool?” He said to me one day. Busted. “It’s more important to me that you two have fun. If for you two… hiding on the bottom of the pool is fun, good. It’s also hypoxic training.”
So while the water might be transparent….. he saw the forest through the trees.
2. Never forget your team fugly, tights, and cap: We wore ugly suits in practice. UGLY drag suits. F*cking ugly drag suits… hence the name Fugly. This was before swim shops began selling them as they do today. Not only that we wore nylons in practice, for drag (you cut off the feet) and you always always always had to wear your practice cap. Never, for any reason did you show up out of uniform. If you did…. not an issue. Coach always had extra in his office.
Once he even made us compete in our fuglies. We showed up to another college, whom we hated. Not only did we bring a bottle of our pool water to dump into their pool (that’s a big deal for swimming) we showed up in full drag, and won.
I learned then the power of team. Swimming is interesting in that it is an individual yet team sport. You have to work together when it comes to the points in a meet. You have to be a team. It wasn’t about the drag or the fuglies….. it was the power of unity. He brought us together as a family. We wore the same uniforms, we showed up together, we left together. We were a team in every single way. Today…. I believe the same thing.
3. It’s not all about the long black line: Coach had this way of talking to us. He is the father of four and the coach of a women’s swim team (and later the men’s as well). He had a sixth sense about him. Every now and then he would stop practice, have us gather on the deck and talk to us. More often than not he would talk about something other than swimming. He talked to us about how to live. How to dream. How to take aim and what it takes to accomplish. He wanted us to see us with good spouses. He wanted to see us live good lives. He’d lecture in a story telling kind of way and he’d be able to drive the point home. He taught me more about life than I could have ever learned in school.
4. You can kick a drunk out of a bar, but that’s not solving the problem: In college I was in the height of my eating disorder. I had actually recovered for two years and when I got to school….. you know how it is…… perfect set up for a relapse. He knew I was sick. He knew I was real sick. He later told me he struggled with whether he should kick me off the team as an incentive to get some help. But he knew that at the time, swimming was my entire life. I had nothing else. He taught me that while you can kick a drunk out of a bar, they will find another bar. On the team he could at least keep an eye on me, and that he did. He saved my life. Literally.
Since then I have been in those situations where you have to make the choice of kicking the drunk out of the bar, or keeping them close. I have done both and both are equally difficult.
In many ways my recovery is because of him (I am coming up on 20 years even). Not all him, but he had a very, very big part. I feel that in many many ways I owe him my health.
There are a lot more lessons. Life lessons. My husband has never met coach but he pointed out that not a week has gone by in 12+ years we’ve been together when I don’t reference Coach in some way.
That’s a life well lived if you ask me. That’s being powerful without intending to be.
There are people in this world who make it their goal to be inspiring. And then there are the people who ARE inspiring, just by being …. who they are. Those are the people who I find have the most influence. On me at least.
So thank you coach. Thank you for teaching me much more than swimming. Thank you for teaching me how to live.