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This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Chris Dahowski, the head coach of Paseo Aquatics.
Having a day to reflect upon the current state of our country and the world, many thoughts have passed through my head as we witness the lockdown of swimming due to the rampant run of the coronavirus. I began to think about my childhood, when I was a competing swimmer. The work put in to earn those championship cuts — and how such a crisis would have impacted me. I believe I would have experienced a massive let-down while at the same time convinced myself I was ready to take on the world. I would not have been able to comprehend the complexity or the dynamics of the situation, nor taken the time to grasp its reality. I would just always be thinking… “Why is this stopping me now?!”
Today, I look back on swimming and uniquely enough what I recall most is the training. The day in, day out grind of it all and what it truly meant. The days of pain from putting in the work. The agony of the defeats at practice that left me broken and alone. The times I felt like “This is too much, I can’t go on” but pushed through it to come out the other side. The tears or laughter next to my teammates as we built lasting relationships through the sport. The practices filled with relay starts, talks of pacing or the days of endless turns.
I deeply remember the moments where my coach and I just spoke. Poolside with my feet dangling in the water, goggles wrapped around my head, leaving a temporary red impression across my forehead. Why are you afraid to race, Chris? What’s holding you back? What’s your reason why? I couldn’t answer those questions. I could only search for them. I knew I had to seek them, as it was my journey — not my coach’s.
There were times our conversations drifted to the personal. Topics like home, friends, break-ups, school grades, weight, acne issues and self-esteem. Subject matters that would actually make me cry. Real-life discussions that might be impossible to raise at home because oftentimes they involved mom or dad.
Finally, I remember confrontational talks with my coach. Asking him why he rides on me so much. Why he is constantly at me during practice? Why isn’t he making me faster? I felt like at times I was not one of his “favorites” or he just “didn’t like me” because of the way he treated me. What I didn’t know, was that his actions were a direct result of me and my behaviors at practice. A lesson I learned much later in life.
Upon graduation from high school, I found out more, but not directly from my coach. Rather from a letter he wrote to my new coach. An insightful, inspiring letter from the coach I was convinced did not have my back. It wasn’t until I became a grown man that I realized the impact that coach had on my life. I have since thanked him for his dedication — and apologized for not living up to his beliefs in me.
“All of this is what I remember most about competitive swimming. I don’t really recall all the championship meets and certainly not any life lessons I might have learned along the way. What truly shaped my life moving forward was the daily training.”
Though we are shut down from our championship meets, we are not shutout of the training that took place, where all of these “invisible & un-measurable” learning experiences occurred on our pool decks. Each and every athlete grew in their own way towards a better version of themselves. New and stronger relationships were built. Athletes faced new discoveries about themselves during the grind. They learned the agony of defeat and the power of picking themselves up. They have built more trust with their coach. Lastly, day in and day out they put the work in, which soon will pay dividends down the road.
All is not lost, in fact far from it. This growth will carry over to the next championship meet. Their quench for success will be even greater. The drive to bounce back will be stronger. When they get that chance to race again, they will have fun! I predict we see some amazing swims emerge from this. In the wake of COVID-19, there will be a WIN!
To all our swim communities, it’s important to stay positive at this time, stay bonded as a team and continue to support your local club. When this all turns — and it will — athletes will need their club, their teammates and a sense of routine and purpose more than ever.
Chris Dahowski is an ASCA Level 4 swim coach and the head coach of Paseo Aquatics in Santa Clarita, California.