Many months ago, a friend approached me regarding a nearby Masters team that needed a part-time coach for two days a week. This sounded perfect to me because it would help keep me sharp in my teaching, and would allow me to work with swimmers who were desirous of both teaching and training.
That was how I met Ann Johnson, the head coach. Ann was in her seventies and had been involved in swimming for longer than I’d been alive. Our common ground was breaststroke… and the fact that we both loved to help people swim better. Ann seemed to know everything about each of her swimmers. She could point to any one of them in the water, and tell me a story. She’d talk about things they had worked on over the past year, changes made to strokes, workouts performed, meets they swam at. She knew something about each swimmer, and cared about each of them.
Ann and I coached on different days and, because of the distance for me, I never had a chance to swim at an Ann-coached practice. Yet Ann just about always swam at mine. I’d give a set, or talk about something we’d be working on, and sometimes she’d call me over to make sure she understood exactly what I was trying to teach. She told me that she tried to incorporate things I taught into the practices that she wrote. She became the training aspect of our duo, while I served as more of an instructor to the team. While Ann knew TONS about technique, she was open to new things that I’d bring back from my work with some of these great athletes. While I know a lot about delivering tough practices, I wanted to TEACH these swimmers. As it turned out, between the two of us, we made a balanced coaching team.
Ann was also working on her own swimming — changing some subtle things in her stroke. It was so exciting to see her find something new, swim a 50 and look at the clock, and in her own special way say… "Wooo… that was pretty good!" She’d even get on the blocks and try new start techniques. How many septuagenarians do you know who will repeated climb up on starting blocks to try something NEW? If she was going to teach it, she was going to try it. She was a true coach.
Tonight, Tuesday the 18th, I learned that Ann passed away. It was one of those totally unexpected, and completely blindsiding, events that you’re NEVER ready for. I can only imagine how her family feels at the loss of such a caring person. And I’m especially sad for her son, who with Ann, revisited her homeland of Norway this past summer, much to Ann’s delight. I knew Ann for only 8 shorts months, but learned so much from her about coaching and caring and the having the courage to try new things.
Ann Johnson, World Masters Medalist, Masters Coach, and wonderful woman.
We’ll miss you, Ann. God Bless.