Q: How did your swimming journey begin?
A: I got into it because my older brother was recruited on the high school team, and after watching his meets I got interested. I grew up in Skokie and started swimming when I was 11 or 12. Then, swam club in high school at Evanston Township, and was the IHSA State Champ. I got into it pretty rapidly, we had really good teams and they still do. I continued water sports in college, at the University of Illinois – Champaign-Urbana, playing water polo, but that was definitely more of a social activity.
Q: When did your coaching career start?
A: Well I’ve worked at the Chicago Fire Department for 28 years, but started as a paramedic. It’s very hard work, and after a few years I decided I needed to see some positive things; you see a lot of bad in the city and I was looking for an outlet, so I got into coaching.
I started coaching at the New City YMCA downtown, which is gone now, but I coached there for 10 years. It was a great experience. When that closed, I went to the Irving Park YMCA, where the Iguanas were already there as a team, and at a certain point we sort of took it over; we made it our own with coaches and parents helped, and I’ve been running that for 10 years.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the Iguanas Swim Club.
A: We’re a year-round USA swimming chartered club team and we train all levels; we have kids competing as high as Speedo Sectionals, which is a lower level senior national competition. We also run our triathlon club in the summer which I think is unique – there’s only a couple youth triathlon training clubs in the city. That has a good membership but they’re not all swimmers. We have a lot of swim meets, a couple a month, and we host some, go to some local and some require more travel. Our current membership is at about 200 kids, including the triathlon team and winter swim, but they come for all reasons. Some just come for the spring stroke classes.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing to teach young athletes?
A: Swimming is a tough sport, and the bigger you get, the harder it gets. We try and get them to appreciate the process of training and creating their own goals, but also enjoying teamwork and friendships. We emphasize that over making time or reaching levels. We find that in the long run as they get older and they hit a plateau, if they appreciate the process then they’ll have a better chance of overcoming that and continuing the sport.
Q: What do you think swimming teaches the kids?
A: Besides a fun activity and incorporating fitness, I think swimming can teach them a little bit of discipline and perseverance. It requires a lot of time as they get more involved, and it can help them learn to balance that with homework and staying caught up. Which is typical of any youth sport, but it’s important.
Q: What’s your favorite part of coaching?
A: Personally, I appreciate working with newer kids that are struggling and seeing them get confidence with their abilities. Seeing them come in nervous and not as confident, and watching them grow is inspiring.
Q: After coaching for 20 years, you must have some favorite memories. What are they?
A: Well first, when my twin daughters Maggie and Zoe did their first kids’ triathlons with our Tri club. This was 10 years ago and they were only seven. More recently, when Lane Tech, a girls swimming program I assist at, won their third straight City Championship by winning the last relay, the 4×100 Free Relay, at this year’s meet. There’s a lot though, it’s been a great experience.