This past weekend, I had the fantastic opportunity to go back to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and visit with some friends from back in my days of college swimming.
There is always the question of "why do you swim," and sometimes while you’re in the middle of it, it’s a tough question to answer. It’s a very difficult sport, spent with the majority of your time with your face buried in the water, completely isolated from interaction with other people. For years, you could imagine that you’re spending your time all alone, yet we all know, because of this isolation, there is almost no way to become successful without the interaction of your coaches, and teammates.
This past weekend, I reconnected with people whom I hadn’t seen in 10 or 20 years, and it was as if we’d seen each other only yesterday. We came together to watch the current swimmers compete during Senior Day, which was the last home meet for 16 of the U of Alabama swimmers. But the larger reason for the reunion was to honor our Coach… Don Gambril. To put his accomplishments in a single article is impossible, so I’ll cut to the chase… 5-Time Olympic Coach, and 360 dual meet victories as a college swimming coach (which is a ton).
The weekend was filled with festivities, and time spent with friends. There was very little sleep, and an incredible amount of laughter. What there also was, was very little talk of swimming. The only time we spent talking about swimming, was when we were honoring Coach. In remembering funny times during practices, or events that took place before or after meets. No one talked about how great a swimmer they used to be, or how great the teams were. Instead, the memories were about swimming with friends, and what Coach meant to us.
The toughest part of the weekend was leaving. Saying goodbye to friends we may not see again for years… but we’re working on that.
One question… why am I writing about this? I’m writing this for the current swimmers. I’m writing this for the swimmers who are dealing with the agonizing hours of lonely training. For the swimmers who deal with boredom, pain, and even seasons that go by without ending the way they want. Each of us this past weekend could have talked about all of those things… but ultimately, the small individual pieces that make up the sport of swimming are unimportant. It’s the collective experience that you’re building with the closest friends you’ll ever have.
You may not realize it all until many years later, but you will realize it. It’s all worth it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. All of that disappears with time… and all that’s left is the most important thing… the people.
I can’t express enough how much it meant to see every one of these individuals, and that making it through to the end makes it all worth it. It’s more than just being successful in the sport, it’s about surviving with your friends and finishing what you started. We were all so fortunate that we had each other to experience the sport with, and without "the team" I doubt any of us would have been as successful, or certainly would have made it through.
I’m grabbing a few pics from my friends (and there are hundreds… so just a couple), and I want you to look at the expressions of the faces. This was the norm for the entire weekend. This is what it’s like to swim in college, to work through your college career with the demands that only a 5-time Olympic Coach can place on you, surrounded by people who are surviving it with you.
It’s just great.
There are only two words that can end this short article about our reunion… and maybe a short video that will explain it.