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The Swimmer and The Dad

Over the past 7 years of GoSwim’s existence, we have relied on many swimmers to help us learn, experiment, and then demonstrate the drills that show up here on the site.  By far, the swimmer who has graced these pages and videos far more than any other is, Evan Wollman.

When you think about it, Evan may be one of the most watched swimmers in the world.  Since we started posting videos online, our videos have been seen millions of times.  Evan was probably the first swimmer, and was very young at the time.

This relationship was initiated by Evan’s father, Sheldon Wollman.  Sheldon and I became friends many years ago at a swim camp.   He, his wife Paula, and little Evan (sorry, bud), used to drive more than 5 hours from Annapolis, Maryland, to come visit so I could work with Evan on his developing breaststroke.  We’d talk at length about how Evan, a nationally ranked age-group swimmer, could really make it.  We all agreed that the best path would be patience.  

As our relationship developed, I was drawn to the peace and beauty of Annapolis, Maryland to set up our new business, Go Swim.  Each morning, Evan and I would meet at the pool and swim together.  The goal was not to get him in better shape, but rather to teach.  He had a coach who would work him in the afternoons.  My responsibility, and joy, was helping Evan find his stroke.

There were many cases, locally, of fallouts between coaches and swimmers, and at one point Evan entertained the thought of not continuing the sport.  While we searched and talked, it came to the point that, to stay involved, we would continue swimming together in the mornings.  But for Evan to reach his goals (the ones that were set when we first started swimming together), he was going to have to work out again, on his own, in the afternoons.

To train alone, in the silent environment that is water, is a tall order for a high school swimmer.   Each morning, Evan and Sheldon would come to the pool.  Sometimes I’d swim with Evan, and sometimes I would just sit and talk with Sheldon.  I enjoyed both so much that it was tough to decide which I enjoyed more.  Through the course of time, there were other swimmers that joined us.  Laura stayed the longest, and went on to swim in college.  Scott came for a while as well, and the ‘topher drill was invented as we tried to help Chris(topher) learn a bent-arm backstroke.  Our most recent practice buddy is Patrick, the water polo player now turned swimmer.  Through it all, Evan enjoyed his new friends, but ultimately knew that, to succeed, he would have to depend only on himself.

As some of the swimmers graduated, or moved back to teams, it become apparent that for Evan to continue improving, he would need a training partner.  This is when I got back in the water.  I’d swim the first and last 100s of his 400s… trying to inspire him to race.  I’d swim the 2nd and 4th 50s of his 200s breast, trying to help him work his turns.  We’d invent sets that weren’t just straight swimming, but things that would ultimately be very difficult… and more engaging than 10 x 400 on 5:00.  Can you imagine doing that by yourself?  Neither could we.

We did sets that involved cords, chutes, climb-out push-ups, sit ups, and underwaters.  We’d sometimes sit and try to figure out what we could get done… and not get bored.  It wasn’t easy, but through it all, Evan kept coming, and kept going in the afternoon by himself, along with his Dad, always sitting at the end of the pool.

This past year, Evan’s senior year in high school, we knew he wasn’t ranked nearly as high as he could have been.  We knew that if he swam for a high-quality program, he’d be much faster.   But he had achieved the initial goal… he was still swimming, and still excited about swimming (not always… you know how tough mornings are).  Through the course of the season, Evan was the fastest high school breaststroker in the State of Maryland.  He currently ranks among the top few high school breaststrokers in the United States.  He’s signed and is going to attend the University of Florida to swim.  His training partner will change from a 47-year-old dude, to guys named Ryan Lochte, Bradley Ally, and Shaune Fraser.  He’ll have REAL coaches while in the water, and in his dryland training.  But most important, he’s still swimming.

This past Sunday, we lost our most consistent training partner.  Evan’s Dad, Sheldon, passed away on Sunday after a long and brave battle with cancer.  Sheldon was, without question, Evan’s greatest supporter and his most influential coach of his overall career.  Sheldon was the rare swim parent who understood that there’s more than one way to reach a goal.  He understood that the ultimate prize is… a happy son.  Evan will continue swimming with the image of his Dad sitting at the end of the pool… encouraging him, and making sure he knows the only thing that matters… that Evan is loved, no matter how fast he swims.  That’s just a bonus.