Friday, July 27, 2012
Our Olympic Moment
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." — Olympic creed.
Four years ago, out of complete and utter desperation I did something crazy: my non-swimming almost ten year old joined a swim team. Gratefully, the founders of the team, a husband and wife dynamic duo named Pete and Koren Motekaitis, didn't just allow Patrick to join, they welcomed him with open arms. To add to the irony, Patrick would practice at an olympic-sized pool on our local university's campus. It was thirteen feet deep.
Patrick had tried traditional swim lessons; he had tried just enjoying the pool of friends and family; he had private lessons, official Red Cross lessons, and even lessons at a fantastic private pool with the most patient and loving of swim teachers...all with little to show for it. He could get his head wet and he could (kind of) float and he always had his secret weapon: his good-natured ability to just keep trying something that was easier for so many others. But, no matter how he sliced it, he couldn't swim.
So, my good friend Michele kept nudging me toward the Aquamonsters and finally I made the emails and paid the money and we showed up.
That first year, his teacher was a college student who swam for an Ivy-league school during the school year. She was the one who coaxed Patrick into the pool and agreed to hold the board for him if he would kick across the pool. She would swim backward, holding the kick board, talking to Patrick and distracting him from the amazing, crazy thing he was doing. For about 8 weeks, Patrick and Emily did the kick board tango and I never will forget the random day in August when Patrick felt strong enough or confident enough to kick the board all on his own. Emily was there, kicking her own board right next to him and they spent the last week of summer kick, kick, kicking side by side lap by lap.
The following summer Patrick was graced with an enthusiastic coach who was a top diver for the UC Davis men's team. Jason insisted on "dry land" work before swimming. So there Patrick was with a crew of younger kids holding his weight doing the plank and assorted other yoga moves designed to strengthen his core on the hot cement deck and then swimming. All summer, he used the kick board. Jason, Matt and many other coaches tried to talk Patrick away from the board without success. However, like someone learning a new language, once in a while we would see a broken bit of fluency and be rewarded with a leap of growth. By the end of another solid eight weeks of swimming, Patrick floated, glided and used his arms and legs enough to call it swimming. Of course, I wasn't there to see it...but I got the call from Patrick afterwards and heard in John's shaky voice that a miracle had occurred. As John relayed the shouts on the deck and the sheer victory that the coaches felt when Patrick swam for the first time, I was more than touched. Here are these high level athletes hugely invested in Patrick's success with swimming -- it was a testament to the vision for Pete and Koren's Aquamonsters and the ability to live and breathe the motto
"Every monster matters."
Last summer was Caroline's turn and she willingly jumped in that deep pool and began swimming with the help of her coach, Paul. It was incredible to see her just go for it day in and day out. Her belief in herself propelled her into becoming a swimmer. On the day that she swam across the pool on her own, she promptly jumped out of the pool and said, "Now I'm ready to race!" She would have to wait a year to be old enough but she was ready. Meanwhile Patrick was chug, chug, chugging along. He was swimming but it wasn't pretty and it wasn't for very long distances. Pete thought Patrick should consider doing a meet. I deemed that unthinkable...maybe next year.
And so here we are...Patrick is swimming in the same group of kids with Caroline. Together they swim, practice side breathing and actually learn other strokes from their master instructor and coach Paul. Like a gigantic puzzle with only the final pieces left to place, we can see everything fitting together. Patrick can get close to 3/4 of the way across an entire lap without stopping, but he still grabs the lane line as a safety net. He can do the back stroke, very crookedly, but he can get from Point A to Point B. Caroline works on flutter kicks and basic strokes. She can often blend in with the crowd of swimmers using this pool and pass herself off as a legit swimmer...it's wild!
So it only made sense that Pete would notice this too and push a little harder..."It's time for a meet, Beth. Get out of his way." I took his chiding seriously since Pete knows the territory of parenting a child with developmental disabilities. His son is an adult now, but he's coached enough kids with and without special needs to know when to push and when to believe in the impossible. We agreed...it would happen July 7th.
Like some parallel Shakespearean plot, Pete would be taking his one and only swimmer that he had been personally coaching ever since the dissolution of the UC Davis Men's Swimming Team in 2010, to the Olympic Trials days before our big meet. Scott Weltz, a breastroker and Aquamonster coach himself went to Omaha to test himself against the best. He was an underdog and completely off the radar to those on the outside.
Not for Pete and Scott.
They knew what they had come there to do..."swim at night" (make the swimming finals in your event). They tested the waters with the 100m Breaststroke. Scott created a buzz by getting into the finals, "swimming at night" and getting in 4th place. (The top 2 get to go to the Olympics.) That wasn't even his event so he was primed and ready for the 200m race. Scott raced in the prelims and easily made it to the semi-finals. He came in first in his semi-final race and was ready to take on the former world record holder and the current American record holder along with a host of others. Dreams do come true! Scott didn't just swim at night. It all came together in a 2:09.01 perfect race. He dominated the race and decidedly won -- Incredible!!! Together Scott and Pete are in London this very minute -- cheerio!!!
Only days after Scott's tremendous success and unbelievable win, Pete was on a flight back to our little town to lead a bunch of young swimmers through an ordinary, very local meet. On this blazing day, Patrick had to swim with the 12 and unders...all swimmers who can dive into the pool to begin the race. Patrick was allowed the benefit of starting in the water. He also had a swim coach swimming alongside him just in case it was all too much. The whistle blew and away he went. He would have to swim 50 meters -- there and back -- because of his age. As he swam the first 25, I noticed that he wasn't using his arms at all. He paused halfway through and hung on the lane line for a breath (suprisingly, this is not an automatic disqualification). As he got to the wall, who was sitting on the diving block waiting to coach Patrick directly...Pete.
Pete Motekaitis. The man who just had the biggest achievement a swim coach can have just days before at the US Olympic Trials; the man running a meet for a few hundred swimmers; that man found his way to the wall at the 25 meter mark for a swimmer who really wasn't a swimmer, leaned down and said, "Patrick, use your arms." That tiny act of kindness that I guarantee nobody else on the pool deck took note of sent a rip tide of a message: You are important. You are worthy. You, who will come in last place, possibly be disqualified and need to hang on the lane line to catch your breath, yes, even you, get my time and energy and focus. Every monster matters.
Through Pete and Koren's example, time and time again our family has been included and accepted and integrated into a club of amazing athletes. This feeling of welcome and belonging is such a rare gift and so natural for these two that they don't notice the irony or the juxtaposition of swimmers. But I do. Olympian Scott Weltz, Aquamonster Patrick Foraker...it really doesn't make a difference. You work hard. You practice hard. You make your weakness your strength and you try for a personal best.
It's all about the personal best.
So...you can bet that six Forakers are going to be rooting for a certain coach swimming in London. Scott Weltz, Olympian, Aggie and Aquamonster coach, we know you have another personal best in you. Go for the gold -- for all of us.
Every monster matters...Pete and Koren say it's so.
They live it...it's up to the rest of us as well.