How Swimming (and a Coach) Saved My Life

I grew up in an environment of mixed messages. On the outside, our family appeared normal, stable, and even successful. On the inside, it was a different story.

Relationally, things were chaotic and unpredictable. The atmosphere was one of anger, uncertainty, and fear. Sadly, my early years were affected deeply by sexual abuse.

In the midst of this, I learned to swim at age 4. I did well and was on a team by the time I was 6. The sport got me out of the house and connected me with other kids and families. In retrospect, swimming probably saved my life.

Coach Theron Pickle was a huge part of this.

Yes, his name really was Pickle. This, of course, offered plenty of joke material for silly, young minds:

“Coach Pickle? Yeah, he’s a real dilly!”

“Coach is in a pickle again!”

“Wonder if Coach likes pickles on his burgers?”

Then there was my favorite – the team cheer:

“Uuum! Ongawa! We’ve got that PICKLE pow-ah!”

Coach P’s whistle could pierce any barrier, especially water. His yell was loud and distinctive. His stare could cut through rock and bone, or so it seemed to us.

On the other hand, his smile lit up the sky. He had a sort of light behind his eyes when he was amused. When we swam well, his face beamed with delight. His approval was like cold water on a blazing hot summer day.

Every time I think of Coach Pickle, I grin. He coached me for four years and was a powerful, positive influence in my life.

Looking back, he did four things consistently:

  1. He accepted me. I was small, frail, and asthmatic. He treated me like I was an invincible hulk.
  1. He protected me. Perhaps he knew something was up at home. I don’t know. But he watched out for me.
  1. He affirmed me. He was a magnificent encourager, and I needed that.
  1. He challenged me. He saw possibilities rather than limitations. He had a knack for drawing the best out of me.

Because of Coach P, this thin, frail, asthmatic kid did become a champion. More than that, he modeled character traits I not only admired, but emulated.

Men, we have a unique opportunity today. Our kids and the kids around us are looking to us and at us. What will we give them?

What if we applied Coach Pickle’s not-so-secret formula: acceptance, protection, affirmation, and challenge?

I believe the world would be different – one kid at a time. So let’s begin, one dad at a time.

So thank you, Coach Theron Pickle. You had more impact than you knew.

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