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Saying Goodbye

Okay, here’s the challenge. In a couple of paragraphs, sum up a 46 year coaching career (or a 60 year association with swimming), and tried to acknowledge all the people who had a part in this wonderful life.

As many of you know, swimming as been the centerpiece of my life since my mother taught me to swim on the shores of Lake Pepin almost 6 decades ago. During our summers in Frontenac, we swam every day for hours on end. Unless it was thunder storming, we were in the lake in the morning, breaking for lunch and the obligatory hour (to prevent stomach cramps) until it was time for dinner. All of that time in the water taught me how to use my hands and feet to move in the water. So, when the opportunity to join a swimming team presented itself in junior high, the transition was easy and success followed quickly. As a sophomore in high school, I began teaching swimming lessons. That was 1966, and I have had a job coaching swimming in some form or other ever since then.

I can’t imagine having better mentors. My own coaches were great. My high school coach, Dick Thatcher, is in the Hall of Fame. My college coach, Bob Mowerson is in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Virg Luken was an Olympian, and Marty Knight is a multiple Hall of Famer. One of my first coaching colleagues—also a mentor—Jim Brobin, is also in the Minnesota Swimming Hall of Fame. To these men, and many others, I owe a huge debt. For the most part, they gave me my career.

Over that span of years since 1966, there have been so many coaching colleagues, team managers, wonderful parents, and incredibly dedicated assistant coaches. Each of these groups has added to my experience and broad measures of joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment. How does one thank these people for giving so much, often with nothing in return but the satisfaction of being one of those very special people who gives with no thought of reward?

But, as is true with any coaching endeavor, the centerpiece is the athlete. There have been so many swimmers over the years from AAU clubs, master swimming, high school, and finally University of St. Thomas. They are all my kids. And, since time marches on so relentlessly, some of those kids that I coached in the early days now have grandchildren of their own.

Through the “magic” of Facebook, and the tradition of Christmas cards, I’ve been privileged to follow the lives of many of the swimmers. It is in the quality of those lives that I am allowed to leave this profession with a heart that is full and warm. For if, even in some small measure, having shared with them the great sport of swimming made their lives better, made them better parents, made them better people, then I am honored by this. Words of thanks seem so inadequate. But I believe, that those who were a part of this process already “get it.”

But most important of all—for the last 27 years, I have shared this life with my beloved Michele. She has been there through all the most joyous, and the few tough times. A swimming coach’s life is not 8-4:30. It is 5:00 AM alarms, dinners at 8:30 PM, Saturdays at meets, Christmas seasons away from home. And Michele is the glue that holds a home together in the face of that schedule. The single greatest blessing of retirement is that I have the opportunity to pay some of this back.

In a few hours, I will dive into the pool at St. Thomas and swim a few yards to symbolically draw to a close my professional career as a teacher and coach. I hope that everyone that has touched my life of swimming and coaching will, later this afternoon, experience an unexplained moment of joy. It will be my coach’s heart reaching out and saying, thank you, and I love you.

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