What SAIL Means to Me - 2009 Winner

Lauren Harper - RW

Sportsmanship: SAIL Swimming has not been the only sport to teach me the ethics of sportsmanship, but it has taught me sportsmanship on a deeper level. Like any sport, there are the basics of learning to not be an arrogant winner or a bitter loser and to always shake your competitors' hands and say, "Good Game," or "Good Race." However, SAIL has taught me to mean it when I tell the girl in the lane next to mine that it was a good race, instead of issuing a hollow address because my coach expects me to. Even though I may have lost the race, I have learned to be sincerely happy for the girl who may have beaten me by half a stroke, because she earned it. On a more personal level, I still feel it was a good race, because every race is a chance to practice, a chance to improve my time, and a chance to learn from my swimming mistakes. As I near the end of my SAIL career, I feel nostalgic about all these chances I've been blessed with in the past eleven years, as well as sorrowful that these chances in the form of races will eventually run out. SAIL Swimming has never been about being the best to me. I've never broken a record, made it to Classics, or left any other concrete proof of swimming ability, but I've won the awards I think that matter most, such as Coaches' Choice, Spirit Queen, Greatest Reduction in Time, and Most Dedicated three years in a row. Those are more important than any first place ribbon to me, because they distinguish efforts from results, a crucial discernment in sportsmanship, in my opinion. It took eight years of swimming before I ever made it to Championships, and I don't think that T-shirt has meant more to anyone else. It's easy to say not to boast when you win or mope when you lose, but acting on those principles is a far different matter. Backstroke has always been my strong stroke and best shot at scoring in Divisionals or qualifying for Championships, so I was devastated when I got disqualified for a noncontinuous turn at Divisionals one year. I went back to the tent and moped and cursed the blind stroke and turn judge, but my friends, instead of feeling sorry for me, like I was busy doing, reminded me the way I was acting was completely immature and that I should simply take responsibility for my error. I'm so glad that they didn't baby me or make the stroke and turn judge their enemy as well, because they held me accountable to stick to the sportsmanship values I believe in, wholeheartedly. During the winter, I look forward to summer for swimming, not the end of school or lack of homework. Sportsmanship is ultimately about making sure that everyone, including yourself, gets to enjoy what they're doing and have fun, and though I'm sure this will seem like a kiss up, but I promise that SAIL swimming is the most fun I've ever had. For this reason, I feel if s taught me sportsmanship better than any other experience.

Leadership: This past summer, I held my first job as the guppy coach, and this summer, I'm a junior coach. Guppies and eight and unders can be quite a handful. It's been such an enriching experience sharing my love of swimming with the little kids and watching them improve. Last May, there were children who were scared to death to even get near the water, but by the end of the season, they were blowing bubbles and swimming independently all the way to the other end of the pool. Being involved in such a transformation was indescribable. I felt so accomplished when a kid entered headfirst, and I knew that I helped teach him or her to dive, or when a child managed to stay afloat, and I knew that I taught him or her that kick that was keeping them above water. Handing a kid their first blue ribbon or watching one complete their first lap by him or herself was priceless. Their self-confidence flourished on the swim team, and I am so proud to have been a part of that. It was frustrating at times, such as when a boy decided he needed to stop for the fifth time in one lap to clean his goggles. It definitely increased my patience levels and tolerance for children. This year, we have a set of triplets in eight and unders. They were so shy and so scared at the beginning of the year. At least one of the three had a tearful breakdown at each practice for the first week or so. Now they are excited to come to practice and learn new strokes. They hug me when they see me and tell me all about their day. They're excited for the meets, and watch me cheer them on every race. One was even excited about swimming butterfly, even though she isn't quite close to legal. They have been my greatest joy coaching this year, because of their enthusiasm, as well as their obedience. Even if they finish five minutes behind everyone else, they'll swim each and every one of the four laps we ask them to swim for warm up. Knowing I've been a part of their transformation into excited swimmers, even if not yet good ones, makes me smile every time I see them. Being a leader isn't always fun or easy, because it involves that dreaded necessity, responsibility. One of the hardest things as a coach this year has been demoting a boy from eight and unders back to guppies. He wouldn't put his face in the water, so I had to be the one to inform his mother that he would not be swimming in the next big meet. She was very understanding, luckily. However, it broke my heart to tell the boy he had to go back to guppies, but it was necessary for me to be a good leader. I told him I would help him work his way back up to eight and unders, and started to teach him a little responsibility of his own and bravery, by encouraging him to put his face in the water. He should be swimming in our last couple big meets, so that he'll have a chance to swim Divisionals, which makes me hopeful that he's grown enough emotionally to put his face in the water. I looked up to the coaches like gods when I was little, so I realize what a true honor my leadership position is. Though I am only allowed to swim another year, I intend to coach as long as River Walk wants me. I can't think of any better job then teaching what I love, to kids who, for the most part, I love as well. It's amazing that they pay me to do it!

Mentoring: Most of my mentoring has been done as a coach or a leader, but being mentored when I was younger has been an even bigger part of my SAIL experience. When I was younger, I thought the older kids walked on water. I always tried to get in their circle in the Bull Pen, because that was the ultimate honor. Now that I'm one of those older kids, I try my best to welcome younger swimmers and let them know how special they are, following their examples. One of the best mentors I had was Amy Moxie. I swam with Amy for nine years before she passed, so I had tons of time to learn from her, even though that wasn't nearly as much time as everyone needed. The last season I swam with her, we were in an I.M. race by ourselves. My time was at least fifteen to twenty seconds slower than hers, so I knew I'd look ridiculous swimming next to her. She beat me by over a lap and stayed in the water and cheered me on until I finished. She hugged me and came to look at my time and pointed out the time I dropped. It was as if she didn't notice how bad she had just beaten me. Mentors like Amy, have reinforced all my swimming values, including sportsmanship, leadership, and team spirit. Amy always had a positive attitude and never complained. I'm far from that ideal standard, but I consciously try to instill a bright outlook and good attitude in every younger swimmer. When younger kids are upset about a time, I try to show them the time I swam at their age, and that usually makes them feel much better. Another one of my coaches, Sarah Mendez taught me to enjoy every second of the social experience that SAIL was. She would always dance on the blocks, a tradition I try to keep going. She would always play Sharks and Minnows with us too, which made us feel truly valuable as swimmers and as people, because she took the time to play with us. I try to take that same spirit and show the younger swimmers how much they mean to me. An important part of mentoring is not focusing just on the good swimmers or the popular ones, but to show even the slowest that they matter. I always try to help the slow swimmers as much as the fast ones, even if trying to get their breaststroke kick legal or something like it seems futile. In fact, those are the kids who need mentoring the most. I feel I am a good mentor, because I remember what it felt like to be the slowest in my age group, want the attention of coaches, or hero-worship the teenagers.

Team spirit: I love River Walk swim team! Believe me, I'm happy to shout it at each and every opportunity. Other phrases one is likely to hear shouted from my lungs during SAIL season include but are not limited to, "Go Shockwaves!" "You can do it!" "Kick, Kick, Kick!" and "Great race guys!" The spirit of my SAIL team is what has kept me on it in the tough spots or times when I've felt down. I come back every year, because I love my team, even more than I love swimming. I've developed some the best fellowship with my teammates. The camaraderie of cheering each other on and the competition of trying to beat each other in races really forges strong friendships. My longest-lasting friends have been the people I swim with. We love painting our nails green and wearing black suits in support of our team colors, even though green is my least favorite color, and black is sweltering in July. We all help each other with our strokes, and every race one person wins is just an opportunity for the other person to improve. When you see people as early as eight o'clock every morning in the summer, you learn to get along quite well. More than once, I've lost my voice the Friday morning after a meet, because I cheered so loud for my teammates the night before. Over the years, I've accumulated an obscene amount of tacky green hats, leis, megaphones, shoes, necklaces, t-shirts, and other spirit wear. Last time I cleaned out my t-shirt drawer, over half of the shirts were related to swimming in one way or another. I probably have more Shockwave shorts than years I've swam. I am a River Walk fan, first or last, red division or gold division. When cheering for my team though, I've had to learn not to let the rules of sportsmanship fall to the wayside in effect. Having good team spirit is about bringing your team up, not the other team down. This can be very difficult to do at times, especially Divisionals. I mean, what SAIL team doesn't want to sing an anti-Gower chant? Team spirit means cheering for River Walk as a whole and its individuals, without putting the other teams, and especially other individual swimmers, down. I have so many River Walk memories, in and out of the pool. Once, we went to Sports Authority after a meet, and rode skateboards around until other customers complained. We go to Fuddrucker's after every meet, and have a tendency to "decorate" our coaches' houses. I remember playing cards in the bullpen for hours on end. I remember huddling in the bathroom during lightning storms. I remember pushing our coach in after winning Divisionals. I remember playing manhunt and getting more ant bites than we could count. I remember the first time I got a phone call that told me I was going to Championships. I remember staying at the pool until we all were covered in mosquito bites. I remember my drawing being on the cover of the heat sheet. I remember hours upon hours of sharks and minnows. I remember eating Fun Dip at meets until our teeth rotted out. Unlike all those wonderful memories though, I also remember that I have to age out, and that I can't swim SAIL forever. I'm so proud of all River Walk has accomplished, such as breaking a nineteen-year winning streak and winning Quality points three years in a row. Swimming for another team just wouldn't be the same. River Walk swim team is my family during the summer, and I wouldn't have it any other way. One last dose of team spirit... GO RIVERWALK SHOCKWAVES!!!!!!!