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by Carl House

April 21, 2002

Inspiring teacher and coach of the year

Judy Bonning and her husband, John, moved to Australia in 1997 to coach swimming at Killarney Swim Centre, Killarney Heights, NSW, a suburb 20 minutes north of Sydney. Both Judy and John received awards from the U.S. Judy was awarded the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Masters Coaches Association. John received the gold medal Schlueter Stroke Award for one of his swimmers in Coral Springs. They are very happy with their program in Australia and happy to be working with John Coutts, an old friend of John's who is an English Channel swimmer and New Zealand Olympian.

In 1998, Judy commented, "We are really enjoying the Sydney area and have adjusted well. John says that I adjusted faster than he did. I love all the national parks, beautiful beaches, bays and hiking trails (bush walks) around us. There really is so much to see and do. We are enjoying our work. I still get to coach Masters as well as teach and coach everything from babies to what we call Jr. Squad. It's a VERY large swim school, so it's great really great running a business as well as doing what we love most—coaching and teaching! The one thing that we both miss are our swimming buddies and my family." (5/3/98)

In 2006 Judy and John moved from Sydney to Tweed Heads, New South Wales on the Gold Coast of Australia near Brisbane, and purchased their own swim school and pool. Initially with only 50 swimmers, they planned to build their program by offering free swim lessons. Both of their sons, Ian and Geoffrey, swim and compete. (09/19/06). In a January 2008 note, Judy mentions that she loves running the Billabong Swim School and teaching the little ones, but misses her former Masters swimmers.

Judy Meyer Bonning was named USMS Coach of the Year in 1991. The following is the nomination written by Carl House and submitted on June 17, 1991.

Nomination of Judy Meyer Bonning for Coach of the Year

I read of the "coach of the year" nominations in the recent issue of "Watermarks" and have found others who feel as I do that our coach, Judy Meyer Bonning, is deserving of that recognition. We understand that your wish is to receive a small number of letters for any candidate, and in response to that we have agreed that I should write describing my experience with Judy and to make an attempt to represent the views of others who benefit from her talent and leadership in South Florida.

I'm only one of many people to whom Judy has become a very important person. Her talent, personality, and character are evident to virtually everyone who comes into contact with her. And she enhances the lives of most people lucky enough to be able to be coached by her.

In order to convey the contribution that Judy has made to swimming and to individual swimmers in the time that I have known her, I have asked other people to tell me their stories for inclusion in this letter. Their comments are organized in four areas to illustrate what makes Judy very, very special. The four areas are:

* Competence in Teaching Swimming Technique

* Effectiveness as a Motivator

* Leadership

* Character

Competence in Teaching Swimming Technique

"In the five years that I have known and worked with Judy she has filled the roles of friend, coach, love interest advisor, and Mardi Gras ringleader. After the 1988 Olympic games I trained with Judy's Masters team. She is an innovative stroke technician and brilliant "drill repairs woman." She encouraged me to compete and train for the 1992 Olympics. I am heavily indebted to Judy for her insight, generosity, perspective, and sense of humor." Dan Veatch. Dan was a 1988 Olympic swimming finalist, and last month he defeated world champion Martin Zubero in the 200-meter back and also won the 400 free in an international open meet in the Canary Islands.

"Judy really keeps up with new developments in swimming. You always know that she will be teaching with the best current knowledge of technique and physiology. There's more, too, she is really involved. You know that her reward is in seeing people improve. She really is dedicated to coaching, and she'll be there for you when you need her. She really helped me get back to where I could compete at the World Championships in Brisbane." Jim Manchester. Jim took fifth in the 800-meter free in Brisbane after recovering from serious injury from being struck by an automobile. He won both the 800 and 1500 at the World Masters Games in Denmark but was disqualified for wearing the same float device he had worn in Brisbane for his injured leg. (He was not disqualified for use of that device in Brisbane.)

"I started swimming with Judy in 1988 with a clear desire to compete at the World Masters Swim Meet in Brisbane. We trained twice a day, not only in the water but with videotape and weights. She honed my stroke continually and in the weeks before Brisbane I knew that I was at the swimming peak of my life. In Brisbane, it really made a difference to have a personal coach. She helped me prepare for each event, took splits, critiqued each performance, and helped me get ready for the next. All of my times were faster than I had ever swum before, even faster than my times competing in high school and college. I placed 11th in the 400 IM swimming against recent Olympians in the 25-29 age group. She has continued to be both coach and friend, and we are all lucky to have her here." John Mangrum.

"The most important thing about Judy's coaching is that she is a true Masters coach. She doesn't borrow from age-group workouts for Masters because she knows that Masters swimmers to a much greater extent need individualized programs. I'm definitely in support of Judy as our Coach of the Year." June Krauser. June is the Thomas Jefferson of Masters swimming since she wrote the original rules of competition when we broke away from the AAU in 1972. She holds the world records in the 200 fly SCM and SCY, and she is a perennial All-American.

"The wonderful thing about Judy is that she can coach at any level, from the rank beginner to the best competitive performer." Sandy Jackson. Sandy took second in the 1000 at the USMS SCY Nationals in Austin in the 45-49 age group and is ranked in the USMS Top Ten in many other events. Sandy also has three daughters, all of whom are exceptional swimmers. The two oldest have qualified and competed in the Olympic trials. Her youngest daughter has swum Olympic qualifying times in two events even though she is only 14 years old.

"I am a non-competitive fitness swimmer who feels like an Olympic hopeful. It's all because of the personal attention and driving motivation that Judy so willingly shares. She wants me to be my best and works with me as if I was a star athlete. There's no one else like her anywhere." Terry Galbraith.

Effectiveness as a Motivator

"Judy was the motivator that got me to attempt my swim around Manhattan. She believed I could do it, and she planned individualized workouts around my specific needs to prepare for my attempt. She went to New York with me, and accompanied me in a boat during the swim to provide 100% of my physical and mental needs." Kathy Grant. Kathy was the sixth woman to complete the swim around Manhattan when she did it in 1987. She finished the swim through the Hudson, Harlem and East rivers in eight hours and 47 minutes, finishing 27th out of 41 participants (men and women combined). Kathy then placed sixth in the 1650 free at the USMS national meet in Austin in the 35-39 age group and seventh in the 1500 at long course nationals in Buffalo.

"I started swimming because my kids were in the age-group program. They have since stopped swimming, but the benefits to me were so great that I find it essential to continue. My cholesterol count has gone down from 235 to 165, my pulse rate from 80 to 60, and my weight has gone done from 238 to 190. Swimming has become a central and very important part of my life because of Judy's attention, encouragement, and wonderful talent. I think she might have added years to my life. I'm very, very grateful." Phil Lustig. Phil has been an important member of Judy's Masters advisory committee and competes regularly in Masters meets.

"What is special about Judy is that she is very understanding and cares about the individual needs of the adult swimmer. She is especially talented in bringing out the best in a swimmer and helping them to get to their potential. She understands that adult swimmers have multiple interests and responsibilities, and she coaches people at the level of commitment that they make. She goes beyond the basic requirements of her position, attending all meets, preparing her swimmers for each race, taking splits, and evaluating their performance afterwards." Marion and Bernice Sobel. Marion and Bernice are the famous twins of Mission Bay. They competed in the 65-69 age group in the USMC SC Nationals at Mission Bay and in Los Angeles.

"Judy always takes an interest in the individual no matter what his swimming ability and motivates him to improvement along with excellent coaching." Ralph Rogers. Ralph had never swum competitively before he started at Mission Bay in January of 1989. With Judy's coaching he took second place in the 1500 free at long course nationals at Woodlands in 1990 and had four positions in individual events in the SCM Top Ten results recently published in Swim-Master.

"Judy has the ability to motivate her swimmers above and beyond their expectations. She is very supportive and builds self esteem." Anita Allen. Anita, age 37, placed fourth in the 1000-yard free in the National SCY Championships in Nashville in spite of a recent broken leg.

"I've been a competitive athlete all my life, but I've never felt like I had a coach so much on my side as Judy is. Swimming has not been among my competitive sports, so Judy has retrained me at age 60 and encouraged me so that I have the immense satisfaction of doing well at a new sport—competitive swimming." Bea Levy. Bea recently competed in her second Masters meet and especially likes the butterfly.

"I had serious and painful health problems in a herniated disc and a lamenectomy. This and related stress were so severe that I sold my business and moved to Florida. No therapy was helping my pain until I started swimming with Judy. Even though I had been a swimmer before, the first day I got in the water I could hardly make it from one side to the other because I was so out of shape. Judy's program and her personal encouragement got me to the point where my pain was greatly reduced, my back was strengthened, and I became a new person. I now swim regularly three to four times per week and am now happily starting a new business." Jerry Solotkin.

"She brought me back from the dead. I had high blood pressure. My doctors were very concerned and wanted to start medication. I was playing handball and thinking that was good exercise. I heard about her swim camp and thought that might be exercise that would be more helpful to my health problems. She totally reworked my swimming style with a new dive, a new freestyle stroke, and a new turn. My blood pressure returned to normal without medication as a result of my new commitment to swimming, and I now have the body of a man 25 years younger." Sherwin Drobner. Sherwin is a Top Ten swimmer in several events.

"Judy's enthusiasm for triathlons as well as her personal encouragement and recognition has been inspirational for me and one of the reasons for my success in the sport." John Laramie, one of the top age-group triathletes in Florida. He has trained continually with Judy for several years.

"In March of 1989 I had a heart attack. Swimming was recommended as part of my recovery. Without Judy's help and encouragement, my recovery would not have been as successful. She is not only a great teacher, but I have come to view her as a great friend. I was barely able to swim 25 meters when I started, and now I swim 2,000 yards five days per week." Tom Gault.

Leadership and Organizational Ability

The qualities that we have been describing are the qualities of leadership, and we have additional evidence of Judy's exceptional ability in this area. She arrived at Mission Bay in the fall of 1986 and by springtime had nearly 100 Masters swimmers. This number later grew to 200 registered Masters swimmers. In addition, Judy conducted swimming camps where swimmers would come in for a week of intensive training. These camps might have anywhere from six to 20 swimmers, and she typically conducts six to eight each year. In May of 1989 she hosted the second largest swim meet ever held in the United States when the USMS Short Course National Championship was held at Mission Bay. This involved organizing over 100 volunteers and dozens of participating business entities into a multi-level organizational structure that worked for months in preparation. During the week of the meet, more than 500 volunteers acted as timers, judges, award custodians, food servers, and facilitators for the more than 1,750 swimmers from all over the U.S. and a dozen foreign countries. Comments from seasoned competitive swimmers indicated that this was one of the best run meets they had ever seen.

The Coral Springs Masters Program began without fanfare. The first workout was Sunday, March 17, and not a single swimmer showed up. Several workouts after that had only one swimmer. Sometimes I was that swimmer and I was impressed that my coach would bring the same commitment and skill to this one, modest swimmer that earlier I had seen her bring to a workout with forty swimmers that often included a national champion or two. These were lessons in professionalism for me as well as lessons in swimming. The Coral Springs Masters program now, 90 days later, has over 50 swimmers paying monthly fees and numerous others who drop in at daily fee rates. Saturday workouts always have half a dozen or more swimmers from the old Mission Bay team who have driven substantial distances for the pleasure of a workout with Judy Bonning.

The first Coral Springs Masters swim meet will be held on the weekend of June 22-23. I expect that it will be the best attended Masters meet of the past year in southern Florida.

Since starting the new program at Coral Springs, Judy put on a Masters swimming workshop in Indianapolis, continuing her practice of recent years. In the past she has put on Masters swimming workshops in Alaska, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Norway and all over the United States.

Mary Lee Watson in Nashville comments: "Judy's expertise and influence is far-reaching. She goes out and gives of her talents in other parts of the country. Our Masters team in Nashville, Tennessee, does not have a coach, so we asked Judy to come to Nashville to put on a workshop for us. She gave so much to us that I simply cannot say enough good things about her. And now she's gone out and extended her talent even further by marrying John Bonning." Mary Lee is the Perle Mesta of Masters swimming, many times All-American, and until recently the 400 free long course world record holder.

Frank Tillotson, Dixie Zone Chairman and former All-American says: "Judy's contribution to swimming in Florida is very clear. I back her 100% as our Coach of the Year."


I think that situations both reveal and create character, and I believe that we do not fully understand the character of an individual until we see how they respond to stress and to loss. Recently when I thought I had the best coach there was but I was the only team member, I urged that we create a team like Holmes Lumber and I produced a list of top level unattached swimmers I thought we might try to recruit. Judy said she believed that a team should train together and compete together under one coaching umbrella. I didn't even get to make the first phone call. She said, "however long it takes to bring together a team that will train together and compete together, that's how long we will take to create the Coral Springs Masters Team."

The Mission Bay Aquatic Training Center was a world-class facility created without public financial support. While its design was superb and it attracted wonderfully talented coaches and competitors, the 565 acre real estate development project around it (mostly residential) was simply not large enough to provide a secure subsidy. With the economic downturn at the end of the decade and with a decision by the major local employer (IBM) to relocate a substantial number of its employees to North Carolina, Mission Bay's financial support mechanism collapsed. In the latter part of 1990, many attempts were made to design an ownership and management structure that could enable training to continue. The coaches agreed to take over training programs, paying rent to the facility owner, and pay themselves from whatever profit they could make. As rents were high, this was a courageous commitment by the coaches. But while they were in Australia conducting clinics and visiting family, the Mission Bay owner cancelled the agreements that had been made, leaving swimmers uncertain about to whom they should pay their monthly fees even after the month (January) had begun, and leaving coaches without programs or salaries and with no notice. Most Masters swimmers dispersed to other nearby programs and pools at that time or soon thereafter. Judy and her husband, John, explored other possibilities, and eventually made a commitment to a lovely new municipal facility about 20 miles away in the city of Coral Springs, Fla., in the middle of March, 1991.

Comments from others follow:

"In the past year while we have watched the financial collapse of the Mission Bay Aquatic Training Center it would have been understandable for Judy to suffer great discouragement. Perhaps she has privately, but to us she has continued to demonstrate the highest standards of coaching." Phil Lustig.

"Judy Bonning is an extraordinarily devoted Master's coach, tailoring her coaching to the needs of each of her swimmers. I joined her program after losing both my son and my husband to cancer. Throughout that period of time many people helped me, but Judy really made a difference. Because of her skills in teaching and her support and encouragement, Masters swimming has become a focus for me. I'm grateful to Judy for the purpose and joy she has given my life." Ann Wood. Ann started swimming at age 60 after 42 years of smoking and she recently competed in two swimming meets, earning points in each for the Coral Springs Masters Swim Team.

"I was searching for a program for disabled swimmers. Judy started working with me on a personal basis. She first taught me simple survival, to stop flailing, to roll over and to keep my head up. Then I was totally relaxed and without fear. She taught me to swim with only my arms and then I began working out in the regular Masters workouts at Mission Bay. At her urging, I entered a Masters meet and competed with other able bodied swimmers. Last month I competed at the Maryland Wheelchair Games in Salisbury, Maryland." Gail Evans. Gail is a former physical education teacher who is now nearly quadriplegic as a result of a disease that began ten years ago.

My own story is: "Four years ago when I was 48 years old I was told by a doctor that the severe back pain I was suffering would continue for the rest of my life. He added the suggestion that the pain could be reduced if I found an effective means of regular exercise. I struggled for several months to find something that would work. Tennis was out because of recent knee surgery and, besides, it wasn't aerobic. I hated running, and bicycling is dangerous on Florida roads. I tried swimming, but swimming laps alone is horribly boring for a swimmer of very modest ability. Then I read a newspaper story about Masters swimming and about Judy's help to others with health problems. I began joining her workouts. Since I was not a good swimmer, they were not fun at all, but fear of pain, absence of alternatives, and very attentive instruction and motivation from Judy enabled me to continue. It was a year before I was a good enough swimmer to enjoy workouts, but today I work out four or five times per week and compete in any Masters meet within driving distance. I have competed in 29 meets in the last two and a half years. Even though I have had only modest athletic background I recently made the SCM Top Ten in a relay. I expect to make it in an individual event this year or next. I have none of the symptoms of pain that got me started three years ago, and I enjoy nearly every workout and certainly every meet. I have been transformed from a person driven in work and suffering the beginning of arthritic pain to one who has no physical pain and who has far better balance in life commitments through swimming. And, I would not have been able to do this without Judy's persistent, dedicated and talented coaching." Carl House.

And so, Mr. Tingley, this letter has become longer than expected. Thank you for taking the time to read it. It became this long because I felt that to describe Judy's contribution to Masters swimming simply required that voices speak to represent the broad range of people who Judy teaches and inspires. Jim Miller said it best. When I asked him why he and two friends had come all the way from northern California to Judy's swim camp in Coral Springs, he said "Because Judy is the best." We hope that you will agree with us that Judy Meyer Bonning is the person we should honor as Masters Coach of the Year.

Written by Carl House to Bill Tingley and dated June 17, 1991. Judy was named USMS Coach of the Year for 1991.)—USMS Coach of the Year Award—(photo by George Olsen)—Photo1 (by George Olsen