SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]
This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Keith Lambert, a swim official for Inland Empire Swimming.
I never knew that when I jumped into the pool for the first time at age 5 that swimming would have such a profound and life-long impact on me. It turns out swimming was the vehicle to help me overcome obstacles in my rebellious teen years. It gave me the opportunity to swim in college and obtain a teaching degree. Swimming also gave me the privilege of coaching both at the club and high school levels, and it has taught me to be a better dad and human! Once the chlorine is infused in your blood, its hard to let it go. Today I enjoy volunteering my time officiating from the LSC up through the national level.
However, I don’t think I truly understood what swimming could do until my former coaching colleague and I received an email from one of our former swimmers a few days ago. I share the following email, not only as a reminder to all of us about what our sport can do for others, but the quintessential role we play in helping others become who they are meant to be!
“I’m Nikole, I swam with the Waves for 4 years or so, I think ending in ’92. I doubt you’ll remember me, I was very quiet and only moderately fast; I went to Zones one year, but I had to quit due to some shoulder pain and family finances.
I’ve thought of my experience on the Waves often – the care that you both put into me as a young child impacted who I became and everything I’ve accomplished. I had a really rough home life, and swimming was my escape. Having a place that I was valued, respected, and could be successful was my only joy and quite literally saved my life. Susan, you never seemed to notice that I was painfully shy, or poor, or socially awkward; you treated me like I was important and worthy of your attention. Every day you and the other coaches welcomed me and encouraged me to be a better swimmer and a better person. Keith, you taught me about slowing down enough to methodically correct and practice the most efficient movements – a lesson with eternal applications in real life. Even years later after quitting swimming I remembered the refuge that the pool and the team was for me; when I had thoughts of suicide as a teenager there was a little voice in my head reminding me that there were places and people in the world that were kind. I just had to survive and go find them.
I’ve recreated that supportive swimming community at dozens of pools now – I was a lifeguard / swim instructor / pool manager throughout high school and college and coached an international school swim team in the Caribbean for a few years. Later I moved to Detroit where I ran the Downtown YMCA and started a program called Detroit Swims that teaches inner city kids to swim for free. Detroit Swims has taught 7,000 to swim – and it all started with you and the Waves!
I live in Greece now and work remotely fundraising for the University of Michigan children’s mental health program and a couple other recreation non-profits. I have a wonderful husband and 2 beautiful little boys that swim almost year-round in the Mediterranean. I still have a souvenir button with a picture of my 8-year-old self in my Waves team swim suit – it’s traveled with me and been on every single work bulletin board or desk that I’ve ever had. I keep it with me as a reminder of why I do what I do: I want to give other kids the haven that you gave me, a physical outlet for energy and strength, mentors to look up to, and the small successes that mean everything to a child that’s struggling.
What I really wanted to say to you both is just thank you – I’m sorry it’s so belated and long winded – but thank you for being such great coaches and thank you for every encouragement and kindness you shared with me. Your small actions made a big difference in my life, and I’m forever grateful. I hope you’re both doing well, and that you get a kick out of how far your swimming legacy has rippled (pun intended I guess?) out into the world.”
Coaches, athletes and officials should never underestimate the power and influence kindness can be for others, especially when we truly never know what an individual may be going through. Remember this, our swimmers are bound for incredible futures! We need to constantly check our motivations daily and ask…How am I helping them become the leaders they are meant to be? I am greatly humbled by the credit she gives Susan and I for her efforts in helping 7000 swimmers in Detroit, but I’m also reminded that this is the power of community and the far reaches of kindness.
Swimming has given me so much, and little did I know that some 45 years after that first splash, that it would give me this gem of an email. I can’t wait to get back on deck to officiate!
About Keith Lambert
Keith Lambert is a husband, a father, a professor at Whitworth University and a swim official for Inland Empire Swimming. He has been involved with the sport of swimming in one capacity or another for the past 45 years either as athlete, coach, board member or official. He coached with Susan Pfursich in the early 90’s for the Spokane Waves. In the past Keith volunteered for several years as the age group zone team manager for Inland Empire Swimming and was recognized as volunteer of the year in 2017 for IES. He currently serves as Admin-Vice Chair for Inland Empire Swimming.