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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.

Swimming & Diving, Uncategorized

Practicing Gratitude

One shouldn’t need the Thanksgiving holiday to remind us to be thankful, but the opportunity for reflection is certainly welcome.

I’d like to use this blog to share some of the responses of the St. Thomas swimmers and divers to the question, “What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday?”   Here’s what they said:

I am most thankful for my die-hard parents who have supported me through thick, thin, downs and ups. – Jeff Isaacson.

I am thankful for my swimming family, mittens to keep my hands warm, garlic mashed potatoes, my family and friends, and chai tea. – Emily Punyko

I am thankful for being apart of the biggest group of friends you will ever find on campus. – Kathleen Dempsey

What I am thankful for my teammates this Thanksgiving. Both my current and past teammates have been an incredible support to me and are like my family (as Tom loves to put it). – Wade Fuerste

I am thankful for having coaches that are only “moderately pleased,” pushing me to strive for more. – Evan Eklund.  [Editor’s note:  I’m an optimist, and get kidded by the team sometimes for my rose-colored view of them and how they swim, so recently, I’ve adopted the stance that I am “moderately pleased,” or when things are really going well, I am (on rare occasions), “reasonably happy.”]

I am most thankful for my Mom.  I have never come across someone so devoted to others, so supportive, and so understanding.  She gives me strength and support in everything I do, all my successes in life can be attributed to her. – Hayley Trace

I am thankful for the health and happiness of my friends and family.  I am also thankful that I get to see my family, which includes my adorable dog, over Thanksgiving break. – Jen Littlejohn

I am most thankful for the blessings God has put in my life, especially the fact that after suffeirng a serious neck injury I am able to swim and  I can still compete here at UST with an incredible team. – Brian Huls

I am most thankful for my wonderful family and friends. I do not know what I would do without them in my life. – Erin Windschitl

This thanksgiving break i am incredibly thankful for my family and safe travel. I havent seen my brother in a long time due to the distance between Iowa and Minnesota, and having my parents now living up here. He also got engaged to his girlfriend (she has become my sister over these last 7 years that they were dating). We are lucky to have Jack (my brother) and Libby (his fiance) coming to thanksgiving this year. I havent seen Libby in two years due to school and the fact that she was in Panama for a whole year on a scholarship to teach English to the Panamanians. I am incredibly thankful for them both having safe travels and having them in my family and being able to spend time with them this weekend. – Banning Young

The support of my friends and family – Alec Nielsen

One thing that I am very thankful this Thanksgiving is all of the opportunities that I have been given, and some of these opportunities stem from being part of UST Swimming and Diving Family. Over the past couple of months, I have been interviewing with several companies for summer internships. Past swimmers from those companies have reached out and helped me to make the most of my interviewing experience as well as instilling some of my confidence. I am very grateful to them for taking the time out of their busy schedules to help me through this process, and I feel that much of my success has been due to their guidance. I hope to be the same helping hand for other swimmers in the future. – Anonymous

I’m thankful to be meeting my new baby nephew for the first time on Thursday. He’s a little over a month old. – Nick Haugen

I am most thankful for my friends and family who have helped me through so much in my life. – Dan Newman

I’m thankful for all my brothers overseas who aren’t able to be with their loved ones this holiday season.  Their service and sacrifice allows me and my family to share precious moments together.  – Ray Baltera

Now you know why I am so thankful every day, for the quality of the young men and women I have the privilege to coach.