Kickboard Packed

Via email, I receive the comments that are submitted to this site. I work on websites for a living, so it is easier for me to manage this site (publishing articles, etc) than for anyone else involved in the blog. I rarely write anything here. My name is Jane and I used to be a swimmer in New Zealand. I left in 2002 to swim at in the U.S. This morning, I read a comment from Jillian Wayne. Whilst far more fair than some vitriol I’ve read (much of which I’ve published), what you said hurt me, Jillian. Let me tell you why.

When I was fourteen, my family and I moved to Hawke’s Bay. We went there because my grandmother was ill. She suffered a stroke in late 1997–a stroke that no one at Napier Hospital thought she could possibly recover from–but in the autumn of 1998, she was at home again. My family went from Wellington to Napier.

I had been swimming for a few years, and my father David was my coach. When we went to Napier, I didn’t have any reason to change this arrangement, and so I started swimming at the SwimGym in Hastings. The staff were lovely and the gym was two blocks from Hastings Girls’ High School, where I was enrolled. However, despite the short walk to school and the friendly, accommodating staff, the pool there was only four lanes wide. The water was frequently rather warm and the air in the mornings bitingly cold, and often you couldn’t see the pace clock from the far end of the pool due to fog. When the Onekawa Aquatic Centre in Napier opened a new pool in 1999, I changed my primary swimming location and began training there. Aside from a few training partners, all of whom had just seen me swimming and asked to join in, I did this by myself.

The older pool at Onekawa was the domain of the Aquahawks swim team. They noticed my presence: the complex is not large, after all. One mother in particular took offense to my existing. Jillian, I can promise you that I didn’t start what happened next.

You “recall reading articles in a local newspaper about the disruptions.” I don’t suppose you knew what it was like to be me during that time, or what it was like to be one of my parents, or my coach, which is why I’m telling you this story.

During 1999, I got a bit better at swimming. I improved my 200 breaststroke time from 2:48 to 2:38. Hawke’s Bay Today wrote about how I’d done well at the Winter Nationals in Wanganui. Not long afterwards, my family and I learned that this particular woman had explained to assembled members at an Aquahawks’ club meeting that the reason I got press in the local paper was because I was sleeping with one of the photographers.

I was fifteen years old. Now, at twenty-six, I’m only on boyfriend number three, and a middle-aged journalist was not one of them. Nothing could have been further from the truth or more mortifying. Jillian, you say you’re a mother of two. Two swimmers. How upset would you be if you heard that a senior member of your local swimming fraternity was saying that one of your children was exchanging sexual favours for publicity?

To boot, this woman was, and maybe still is, an English teacher at Napier Girls’ High school. Thank the lord I went to Hastings Girls’! My highest School Certificate mark was 96%, in English, and I seriously doubt I’d have been so successful at Napier.

Not long after this, we were at Onekawa early one morning when my father noticed the same woman by the noticeboard at the entryway to the pool. She was tearing something off the board. When she was done, she left the complex. David walked to the noticeboard and saw–not to his surprise–that a photograph of me that had been attached to the noticeboard, was missing. He asked a member of the pool staff if she had seen what happened. The staff member said she hadn’t, but to check the rubbish bin outside the doors of the complex. My father did so, and found the photograph, scratched from frantic fingernails, screwed up in the bin. How would you feel if this was done to your child, or someone you cared for?

A middle aged high school teacher taking to the face of a teenager with her fingernails. Note that I had never spoken to this woman, and my parents must have exchanged about as many words with her as I had.

Some time later (I think it was the next year), I was finishing a Saturday afternoon training session when the pool received a call from my mum. She had had a visit from the Napier police. It had scared the hell out of her, as they’d begun their conversion by asking her if our car’s registration was indeed the vehicle that belonged to her, and “did she know where the car was.” A question like that from a police officer makes one think that the car has been found at the bottom of a ditch. My mum managed to say that the car should be at the Onekawa pools, as that’s where we were. And it was, only another member of the Aquahawks swim team–another parent–had called the Napier police and reported our car “abandoned” in the parking lot. There’s no doubt that he just wanted us put through the hassle of having the car towed away. Many people, including the man who reported it to the police, knew that the vehicle in question was our car. Now, the car wasn’t exactly a nice vehicle. We weren’t the wealthiest inhabitants of Hawke’s Bay, but the beater we drove around had to suffice. As angry as we were that this had happend, imagine also dealing with the humiliation that comes with the suggestion that your only car could easily pass for an abandoned wreck.

Jillian, we did nothing to these people. I didn’t try to stop their children from swimming. I didn’t attempt to have them disqualified from races or deprived of training space. Lies were told about me and my behaviour in order to do all of these things, including a few other completely made-up stories that I still find too embarrassing to repeat.

Jesus Christ, how easy would it have been to say “screw it.”

“Screw how hard this is. It’s too hard. I don’t know that I’m talented enough to get anything out of this anyway. I do okay, but I’m sixteen and there’s so much else I could be doing. This is too hard and all I have to do to stop the stories that I’m a whore, or that my family’s car is abandoned, is to give up.” There were people, however Jillian, who did everything they could for me because they were far from “self-absorbed”, as you call my father in your comment.

You have no idea how wrong that is. His frustration towards anything he sees as being not beneficial for swimming has nothing to do with him. Everything he’s fought for as a swimming coach was for us. It was for me, it was for Bekki Abernethy and Nichola Chellingworth and Joe Skuba and Rhi Jeffrey and Annie Myrvang and John Foster and Nicole Hutchins. It’s for Nikki and Jessica and Zane and the kids at West Auckand now. It was for the people he saw busting their arses every day. He wanted the best for me, but I got no special treatment because I am his daughter. I have seen him take swimmers into his home in Florida when their air conditioning broke down (a big deal in August in Palm Beach County). I’ve seen him drive to airports at all hours of the morning and night to pick swimmers up off of aeroplanes, open the pool at weird hours because someone needed to get a session in, and make all sorts of small, quiet sacrifices that go unnoticed on a daily basis for every person he’s ever coached. I think he does this because he learned his coaching principles from Arthur Lydiard, who did the same for athletes for over forty years. I wrote about my experience with this man, who was also called self-absorbed and cantankerous by many in New Zealand. He was also one of the most caring, generous people I ever knew. It’s a long article: I wrote it for a large project at university. But I suggest you read it, because this is where my father is coming from.

So you suggest that “people like David” are going to derail your children’s efforts. Jillian, if it weren’t for people like David, I would not be living in London. I would not have received a completely free university education, graduated with an A average and worked for two of the most successful companies in the search engine marketing / SEO software market, worldwide. I would not be making more money in pounds than I ever could have dreamed of in New Zealand dollars, after being the kid whose car looked as though it was abandoned outside the Onekawa Aquatic Centre and who was apparently sleeping her way around Hawke’s Bay journalism. There were other people–”people like David”–who ensured that I didn’t end up giving into the temptation to quit, ending up ten kilos overweight studying Home Ec at Otago. The principal of Hastings Girls’ was one of those people. I’ll never be able to thank Geraldine Travers enough for how much she helped me.

Let me repeat that if you didn’t quite get it, in a TL;DR: David has put massive amounts of effort into everyone he has coached who has shown that they want to work hard. Many of us who’ve swum with him would never have been as good as we were, simply because he cared about us so much, and he put us before himself all the time. I was never the most physically talented swimmer in the pool, and there is no way that a quiet spot on the Aquahawks team would have resulted in my being offered a four-year college scholarship in Washington State. And what an experience that is! The thrill of competing in Div I in the NCAA, especially their national championship, is unbelievable!

To me, Jillian, this is the opposite of being derailed. His willingness to work with me led directly to Seattle and London and a place far, far away from the parking lot of the Onekawa Aquatic Centre. I know of many other swimmers who will tell you the same thing: that he cared about them more than any other coach ever has. The downside to this–this caring too much–is that his intentions are frequently misunderstood and belittled by people like you.

I left Hawke’s Bay in August 2002 with few good memories of a place where I caught huge amounts of hurtful flak for four years. I don’t know why; my best guess is because I wanted to swim on my own, which whilst hurting no one, is a sin you don’t commit in a small town around small people.

Jillian, you say that “we might as well pack up our kick boards and send our teenagers off to the nearest rowing club”: let me tell you about the time I packed my kickboard and left. I kid you not: the lights of Seattle from the window seat of a 747 from Honolulu on August 30 were more than enough to confirm that I’d never go back. The only thing I have ever regretted about leaving that town is that I left the best coach I ever had. I likely could have been a faster swimmer by the age of twenty-two if David had still been my coach, even though I had excellent coaches in the US, but he and I also understood the need to use my ability as efficiently as possible for the greatest possible return in my adult life. A decision made entirely, 100%, for me, Jillian. Not for him.

Of course I am going to defend him; he’s my father. However, you struck a chord with me, who thanks whatever gods may be that she didn’t pack it all in one afternoon in 2000 when it really got to be too much. Not even David knows, until now, how I stood in the shallow end at Onekawa and had “I’m quitting” rolling around in my mouth. I’m not sure why I didn’t say it, but I am fairly sure that David’s positive influence was a big reason. I don’t expect you to understand or change your mind, as I am now not fifteen anymore, and am old enough to realise this rarely happens. In fact, I’ve spent long enough on the Internet to expect nothing but further cruelty, perhaps attacking my modest swimming achievements, questioning my ability to understand, or my integrity at large. That’s okay. In truth, I just hope you took the time to at least listen.

Regards,

Jane Copland

  • http://www.swimwatch.net David Wright

    You didn’t need to, but thank you. Seeing you head off to Seattle, or Nichola come second in Hamilton after our car crash, or Toni win her first Nationals or Skuba get back to the Nationals, or Ozzie break those world records or a hundred other less public moments makes the Jillian Wayne moments pretty unimportant. I did like your comment about Arthur. He was one of the really good guys.

  • http://janecopland.co.uk/ Jane

    :)

    I know I don’t need to, but every so often you think, “wow, you’ve got it so horribly wrong, and your if your misunderstanding were true, my life and the lives of others would be quite different.”

    And I mean, I can foresee the comebacks: “You weren’t any good anyway.” People have been faster than me, but I am perfectly satisfied that I bled as much as I could out of my talent, which is all that can really be asked. At the end of things, my best 200 LCM, SCM and yards breaststroke times were something I was proud of. I just wish you’d been there to see the 2:14.92 in Minneapolis, because those were two of the best minutes of my life, and were partially a result of you not being the sort of person Jillian describes you as.

    “You’re only 26, what would you know?” I know what I experienced, and it was completely opposite of what was presented here. Claiming someone’s opinion irrelevant because of their age is a really poor method of debate, and:

    “You’re going to say that – he’s your father.” Sure, but he also taught me to tell my truth, not blindly parrot my elders.

    I do like it that the comment in question accused you of everything people said about Arthur ;) It’s not bad company, even if it’s borne of someone being obnoxiously wrong.

  • J

    The Athenian wise man and lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And while I would hesitate to call David a “great spirit” one should remember also this quote from Albert Einstein, “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds”. One has to admire his tenacity and drive to see the best for his swimmers and indeed all NZ swimmers.

    From what I have been reading in this debate I certainly think that the good old New Zealand tall poppy syndrome is alive and well. In the absence of quality investigative journalism in God’s own, it is refreshing to see someone stand up fearlessly for what appears to be squandering of public money and the loss of opportunities for talented swimmers and coaches to shine.

    When New Zealand did so well in the soccer world cup, being the only unbeaten team, Europe pointed to our “amateur” approach as being our main strength. While that might or might not be the case, it seems that when money is thrown around BEFORE our athletes get to qualifying standards, we have fewer of them performing well at an international level. Kiwi kids are Milo, Weetbix and sausage sizzle heroes, let’s not forget that. The more money that is poured in to admin is less getting those kids around the world to experience what it is really like out there.

  • Swimming Parent

    Hi Jane – I am sorry if I have upset you by critising the comments your father has made on his blog. However, it appears that while he is happy to harshly criticise others on a public forum such as Swimwatch, it doesn’t go down too well when people harshly criticise him back on the same forum. The purpose of my comments was to let him and other people reading the blog know that not everyone agrees with him – especially since he was essentially encouraging people to take a certain line at SNZ meetings. I stand by my comments & am happy to introduce myself to David when we are at the same swim meet, so he can “put a face to a comment”. Might not be till next year’s NAGs in Wgtn, so until then… Great that you 2 have such a good relationship. As a parent myself, I know how much we put into supporting our children.

  • http://frey.maxim@gmail.com frey

    I agree! David is great!

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