Blessed are the individuals
who have a sense of their own uniqueness
the set of gifts and talents peculiar to them
and who use those gifts
for the good of others
for they shall hear the words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant.
Enter into the joy of your master.”
When I was thrown into the role of high school swim coach in 2002, I had no idea what I was doing.
I’m sure I was a most unconventional coach. We had Wildcard Wednesday, where practice could be almost anything, and Thinking Thursday, where practice usually went homeschool-educational. (For example, one week when a hurricane was in the news, we “learned” about hurricanes. The eye of a hurricane can be 2 miles to 200 miles in diameter — so we did a 2 x 200 and they swam it fast because the winds around the eye are the strongest.)
But, honestly, I loved those girls. I loved talking to them and getting to know them — and the more I did of that, the more I realized that high school swim team isn’t about swimming. It’s about life.
I started working to impart life attitudes to them that would take them farther than their 10 week season with me.
Like all school sports, we have a rival. The rival was often spoken of in terms of evil, or like they were our enemy. I wanted to change that.
Over and over, I told my girls that after a race it was important to reach over the lane line and congratulate the girl in the next lane, no matter who won.
“That swimmer in the next lane is helping you to swim your fastest,” I told them.
We were at our rival’s pool for the championship meet. The second-to-last event in a high school meet is the 100 yard breaststroke. The meet was very close between Cooperstown and the rival team. My breaststroker, Becky, had little chance of winning. She was good, but the swimmer from the rival school was the top seed by many seconds.
Right from the start, the two swimmers were side by side. Every time rival swimmer pulled ahead, Becky pulled a little harder and brought herself even. During the last 25 yards, the screams from the stands were deafening. Those two girls were so close — and when they touched the wall, rival girl won.
Exhausted and smiling Becky reached across the lane line and congratulated the winner.
When Becky came to me after the race, she was beaming. “She helped me swim my best time” were the first words out of her mouth. Not a word about losing.
I felt like we had both won — and probably Becky was the greater winner because of what she had recognized.
By being our best, we help others to become their best.
Community and individuality walk hand-in-hand. We can’t ignore one for the other.