Becoming A ‘Real Swimmer’
An inspirational and passionate coach changed my life
In 2009, my boys were swimming with Fort Worth Area Swim Team and I was logging a lot of bleacher time, as any swim parent does. I watched the Masters group with fear and envy thinking that it was something I could never do. The coach, Ric Nesbit, was a seven-time NCAA swimming champion and in the Texas Swimming Hall of Fame, so that was a little intimidating as well. I was a slow-swimming triathlete and had never had a lesson in my life. I could only swim “some version of freestyle,” as Ric would later call it.
As I made up my mind to complete a half-Ironman triathlon, I realized I needed help because really, I hated swimming. I remember my first conversation with Ric. I told him I wanted to swim the Olympic distance .9-mile swim in 25 minutes and the half-Ironman’s 1.2 miles in under 35 minutes. All he said to me was, “just come to practice and we’ll make it happen.”
I really didn’t know what I needed in a coach until I went to practice.
Ric was real old school and rough around the edges. He barked out sets and sometimes yelled. Then in the same moment, he was kind and complimentary with a fellow swimmer who had been working on some tiny detail and had finally accomplished it. This man was more than a little passionate—so much so that a part of me was afraid to come to practice, but at the same time afraid to miss practice.
Swimming with Coach Ric was like nothing I’d ever done before. Time and again, just as I’d begin to think we’d be finished with the workout, he would announce another set that I had no idea how to do. Every practice was filled with me learning a new stroke or fixing one I had tried to learn, or doing crazy drills that were completely new to me.
Some of the drills and sets puzzled me. Why would a swimmer not breathe for 25 yards? The idea seemed more than a little insane. Then there were the almost-daily emails from Coach Ric on a swimming-related topic or links to a new YouTube video he wanted us to watch.
More times than I care to recall, he would yell my name to get me to come to the end of the lane because everyone else had already finished the set. On more than one occasion, I threw up in the car on the way home because I’d kept my heart rate too high just trying to keep up with the other swimmers, and had dashed off after workout without properly cooling down. And, yes, there were the practices when I went home and cried. This was the hardest thing I had ever done.
For more than a year, Coach Ric was hard on me and the practices were tough. But then, suddenly, something clicked for me. Coach Ric moved me over to a faster lane. I was no longer in the dreaded slow lane. I was able to complete sets and I could do all four strokes and do two of them really well. I went to my Olympic distance triathlon and completed my .9-mile swim in 25 minutes just as I’d hoped. I couldn’t believe it, and Coach Ric was so proud of me. Words cannot describe how excited he was, and for what seemed like weeks he told everyone about my accomplishment.
Having met my first goal, I kept coming to practice and working on the next goal: completing the 1.2-mile Ironman swim in less than 35 minutes. I was able to make the intervals most of the time and I even went to a few swim meets. I was shocked to not be in last place in any of the events I entered. I even got a few first places. The whole time Coach Ric cheered just as hard for me as he did for our national champion and ex-collegiate swimmers. I went to my half-Ironman and swam my 1.2 miles in under 38 minutes. I was amazed. I was in the top 10 percent of swimmers for the whole race, a fact I found to be simply unbelievable. Coach Ric told me I was ready for the full Ironman swim distance, 2.4 miles.
After working with Coach Ric, I can call myself a real swimmer and not “just a triathlete.” And last October, after four years with Coach Ric, I decided to sign up for that full ironman. The day I went to tell him that I was finally going to do that full Ironman I’d dreamed about was the day he passed away.
I think of Coach Ric often in my training and to say I miss him, his friendship, and his practices would be a huge understatement. Coach Ric was irreplaceable. It still doesn’t feel right when he isn’t on deck when I go to the pool. I cannot put into words how difficult it’s been for me to embrace this sport in the same light without him here. I can’t say I’ve ever had someone in my life teach and inspire me the way he did. He brought a passion to swimming that I’ve never seen before. And that is what makes a great coach.