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

Day One, Year 80

Two of our three workouts are in the books for Day 1 (the divers are on the boards as I write this) of the 80th year of St. Thomas Swimming and Diving.  It was in 1934 that saw the first record of St. Thomas’s participation in the Minnesota College Conference swimming meet.

There are, by happy coincidence, 80 athletes on the roster in this 80th year…41 women and 39 men–of which nine are divers!  They are more deeply talented than any team in the program’s history, although it’s a little hard to compare the championship teams of the 40s and 50s.  Back then, there were fewer events, teams were smaller, and the number of events an individual could swim were very limited.  In 1949, for example, Rule V, Section 3 states, “No contestant shall participate in more than three different events in a swimming meet (participation in a water game excepted).”

Bob Christensen’s 1941 championship team had only eight men, but they won five events and the championship.  St. Thomas’ss first championship team after World War II has only 10 men, a manager, and legendary coach Don Adee in the team photo.

So, today’s team, while huge by comparison, is able to stand on but a handful of shoulders–that’s how broad they were.

1941 Team

The 1941 Champions


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.

Swimming & Diving

The New Year Fast Approaches

And a Birthday for the Anderson Aquatic Center

And a Birthday for the Anderson Aquatic Center

Quicker than you can say, “October 3,” the 2011-12 edition of the St. Thomas Swimming and Diving family will hit the water and the boards to start the new year.
We hope to have the roster up on the website soon. We have a very talented group of new swimmers and divers…which will give us the largest team in St. Thomas history.

Coaches, Swimming & Diving

It’s Official!

On Friday, October 15, we ran an unofficial handful of time trials to test the timing system, and the results were “WOW”…”Holey Moley” and literally raised goosebumps on my forearms. The pool, officially, is fast.
Splits in the men’s 200 Medley Relay were fantastic, with three flyers (not even including 2-time MIAC Champion Erik Huls) were under 24.7, two backstrokers leading off under 25.9, and two anchor legs in the 21s. The women’s Medley was at already at 2:00, with a couple of faster splits in other relays.
The men’s and women’s 50s were amazing for this time of year. Even the 100 IMs were surprisingly fast…faster than these swimmers were at last year’s relay meet, and we’re only two weeks into the season.
All this tells me two important things: That the current team has talent, but also that the new pool is really, really fast! Maybe even faster than we had hoped as we poured over archetect’s drawings this past year.
In two weeks, we’ll host the St. Thomas Relays for the first time since we outgrew O’Shaughnessy Hall in 1999 and moved the meet to the Butler Center Pool at St. Catherine University, and later to Carleton. At that time, we’ll have further confirmation of just how amazing this pool is…the speculative term “wicked fast” may prove to be too mild a descriptor.

Coaches, Swimming & Diving

First Practices

We’re into our second week of practice, and the pool is turning out to be everything we hoped for. Coming from the old O’Shaughnessy Pool, and it’s narrow five lanes, the fun of writing a practice (as I did today) for six different sets spread among 12 lanes is fantastic.
The record board is going up today, and we’re getting the finishing touches on the video board. Backstroke flags and our final lane line set up is coming soon. Hard to believe that, at this time last year, we were in O’Shaughnessy Hall, sharing the locker room with the football team (ugh…mud and shoulder pad smell).
Our first set-up of the timing system comes Friday, then the Alumni Meet (on Sunday, October 24th), and then The St. Thomas Relays–back on campus for the first time in many years–on October 30th!

Coaches, Swimming & Diving

First Splash

Yesterday, at about 4:00 PM, 50 members of UST’s swimming and diving family joined hands, and after a count of “seven, eight, ready, “GO!” all jumped into the new pool, becoming the first UST students to swim in the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex’s amazing Aquatic Center.
After the jump, everyone surfaced, and after a moment of sheer wonder, a spontaneous cheer erupted. This was followed by a swim across to the bulkhead, some jumps into the diving well, some dives off the blocks, and about an hour of just “soaking it in.”
A special moment, the first of many for the family in their new home….perhaps not the “Palace Clubhouse,” as we knew O’Shaughnessy Natatorium, but certainly still deserving of being called “The Palace.”

Coaches, Swimming & Diving

The Timing System is Going In

Stopped by the pool today, and chatted with the Colorado Timing Systems installation techs. They were installing the fiber-optic line to the magnificent video scoreboard. The video panels weren’t up yet, but they were close.
Both techs commented very positively on the pool itself, and one said to me, about his equipment, “You’re getting the best stuff we make.” We (swimmers, coaches, and fans) are very fortunate.
Then, this evening, I got a call from Karly Harrod, our sophomore breast stroker, who was on campus, and happened to walk by the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex while the video components were going up to create the scoreboard. During the installation, according to Karly, they were projecting video of nature scenes with various animals. She said it was like watching television. Karly watched as they completed the second row, and half the top row before the rain chased her away.
Every detail that is finished or unwrapped makes me more and more appreciative of all those who made this possible…from Lee and Penny Anderson, to the administrators at St. Thomas whose vision matched ours for a fast intercollegiate racing and diving pool (and outfitted it superbly), to the workers who have clearly taken pride in this magnificent building.

Coaches, Swimming & Diving

More Progress!

The progress on the new pool is nothing short of phenomenal. The tiling of the pool tank is done, and the decks are being tiled this week. The tile and grout will need to cure for a period of a little more than three weeks, but the pool will be ready for water late in August, and should be operational by the start of school.
This pictures shows the tiling progress…the view is from the deck looking into the deep end. Can you see the bulkhead, all wrapped up, hanging from the rafters?

Our parents and fans are going to be excited, too. The view from the two levels of bleachers is going to be unlike any view of a swim meet enjoyed before. Here’s what the amphitheater-like seating looks like from the deck:

And did we mention the Bose -based sound system? The 12mm pixel video board? The state of the art Colorado Timing System?

Basketball - Women's, Coaches, Ruth Sinn

Building On A Dream

Wow … what an exciting time to be a Tommie! The Anderson Athletic and Recreational Complex is scheduled to open this August. I’ve had the opportunity to tour the complex several times, and I am so excited and honored that our women’s basketball team will be among the first Tommie student-athletes to call this building home. This new facility will feature resources needed to take our program to the next level. We’ll have a state-of-the-art weight room, team room, our own locker room, meeting rooms and many other wonderful amenities … and our team will be playing the 2010-11 season in a brand new arena! What a fantastic time to be a St. Thomas student-athlete.
Our women’s basketball team is changing and growing as well. We became the first MIAC team in any sport to win three conference playoff road games in one week, and the first ever #5 seed (men’s or women’s teams) to win the playoffs. In an eight-day span, we competed on the road and ended the seasons of playoff hopeful Hamline (77-68), Macalester (60-52), Gustavus (63-60) and St. Ben’s (65-62 OT). We finished the 2010 basketball season with an NCAA berth, the only MIAC conference team to receive a bid for post-season play. We traveled to Whitewater, WI and played a tough Whitewater team. That game didn’t go our way, but I was so very proud of how hard we played and how this group stuck together.
Our team’s theme this season has been “Building on a Dream.” The goal was to have every player fully invest of themselves and take ownership in the team. I believe we’ve set a solid foundation for future growth and can build not only on the on-court accomplishments but also on the off-the-court investments.
Now we turn our attention to a new year. We look forward to continuing to grow and develop as a team and as individuals. Coincidentally, the new year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1991 National Championship. How appropriate for this team to celebrate its past champions while working toward so many of the same goals and aspirations of the women who came before us. We will recognize and honor the ‘91 team this coming February for all their successes on the court but more importantly for the tradition and solid foundation they built for the women’s basketball program at St. Thomas and which we now have a chance to put our face and stamp on. That’s the wonderful opportunity the 2010-11 women’s basketball team has in front of them. It is an opportunity I know we’re all excited to take on. We all look forward to the journey ahead of us and, with help from everyone who supports this program in so many ways, anticipate celebrating many successes together!