Introducing Heidi

By David


Thus ended Jane’s most recent email to me. During the break, Jane and Edward have found it necessary to shift the website to another server and indulged in a heap of other technical stuff that I am not qualified to discuss. [Editorial note: I broke everything. Sorry everyone. We’re back now.] Anyway, sorry for the break. While we’ve been away there has been a lot going on in the corridors of Swimming New Zealand power. We can’t wait to begin the discussion again.

But before we do that, there was one story about to be posted when we disappeared. Here is that story. I hope you enjoy.

Introducing Heidi

Jane’s reaction was to say, “Wow, worldwide there must be so much waste of people like that.” I think she’s right. Here are the events that prompted the comment. See if you agree with her conclusion. In this story, the names of almost everyone and everything have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

About ten years ago I had a ten year old swimming in my Bronze Squad. I know this mainly because Heidi has told me. She is now twenty and has joined the WAQ Gold Squad. Vaguely, I do remember her ten years ago. Tall and skinny; a bit gangly in fact and not too keen on the Lydiard diet of 1000 meter medleys. I do remember thinking that she perfectly matched the build that Mike Regner, the East German National Coach who worked for me for several years, said that regime looked for in a potential champion swimmer.

Heidi and I went our separate ways when I left New Zealand to coach in the US Virgin Islands. She joined the biggest and best team in the district and for a few months was well coached. Her swimming made good progress. Her coach ordered her to swim a lot more butterfly than I had but he avoided the 1000 medleys – a quality that Heidi found endearing. Unfortunately for Heidi, another coach besides me was about to abandon her. Her good coach in Hawke’s Bay was offered a job in Auckland, and sensibly moved on to bigger and better things.

Heidi’s club appointed a new coach to lead the team. I don’t know his name so won’t need to lie to you about that. He was one of those Sergeant Major coaches. I can’t stand them. You must know what I mean; everyone in the pool on the stroke of five, no one allowed to miss an interval, twenty minutes of severe calisthenics before every swim, everything timed by two stop watches surgically attached to the owner’s neck.

If you meet Heidi today it will not surprise you to hear that she was not at all impressed by this parade of military authority. Her free spirit was not going to be ordered about by some legend in his own life time, tin pot tyrant. She asked her parents if she could leave and join a small rural club closer to home. The club had a very different coach whose style of coaching was very different from his colleague up the road, a quality much more to Heidi’s liking. Heidi will not agree with my next observation but I think this relaxed period in her swimming development came at just the right time; fun, but never likely to produce an Olympic Champion. At sixteen years old, the Olympic Champion dream was best put on hold anyway.

And then another coach abandoned Heidi. Her third coach also left the area. However, his legacy was important. Heidi was hooked on swimming. But was there anyone around who could convert that passion into results? Not in this part of rural New Zealand there wasn’t. The committee appointed another new person to coach their club. We’ll call him Sam. A couple of years went by and in that time Sam’s contribution to Heidi’s swimming included the following coaching gems.

  • I don’t think you should swim in out-of-district competitions. When you swim badly people know you are coached by me and it reflects badly on my reputation.
  • I don’t need a reason for asking you to do this training. Just do it.
  • At your age it’s probably about time you found something else to do.
  • You are not fast enough nor a good enough trainer to swim in the club’s competitive group. From Monday next week you will swim in the oldies keep fit lane.

For Heidi the frustration was unbearable. She knew she was good. Bit by bit, this “coach” who knew less about the sport of swimming than she did was stealing it away from her. Just as certainly as if he surgically removed her arms and legs he was killing her dream. Swimming New Zealand won’t let me on the pool deck at their National Championships because I dare to criticise their ridiculous organization. And yet they gladly provide Sam with a pass. Swimming New Zealand want swimmers to be safe? Then do something about Sam and those others who cause real damage. Jane is 100% right. It is such a waste. And it must happen everywhere.

What could Heidi do?

Well, what she did was call West Auckland Aquatics and we just love her sort of story. Just keep telling us we are no good. Go on, make our day. Heidi lives in Auckland now and in the past seven weeks has swum 79, 73, 69, 47, 70, 70 and 65 kilometres a week. We included her in our Auckland Championship’s relay team with Rhi, Jess and Jane. They beat the North Shore Club in a provincial relay championship for the first time in about six years. This athlete that was not good enough for Sam’s competitive squad was an Auckland Open Champion. Last Wednesday in the middle of a 70 kilometre week she swam a set of 5x100s from a push start. Her fastest was 1.03 and she averaged 1.05. Best of all on Thursday she managed not one 1000 medley but 4×1000 medley without comment. Last night her set of 10×200 averaged 2.22. The 20 year old Heidi has changed.

For a few months, Heidi’s career hung by a thread. Could she escape Swimming New Zealand’s disastrous guidance? Could she survive? Or was she going to be part of the 90% drop out rate that characterizes this Mike Byrne-led sport. I honestly think Swimming New Zealand don’t care. If Heidi disappears then Heidi just wasn’t up to it. The truth however is that when a Heidi disappears usually it’s because the environment Swimming New Zealand created is rotten to the core.

  • Janis

    Hi David.Thought it strange that you had nothing to say in the past few weeks.I can sympathise with Heidi and have guessed who she is.I know Hawkes Bay Swimming well and I can say that management in Hawkes Bay in my experience, is definately rotten to the core.

  • Jon Winter

    Hi David – this wouldn’t be Lara? Fantastic if it is and to hear she’s doing well

  • I like hearing about people escaping the cesspit that is Hawke’s Bay swimming :)

  • David

    Jon – it is and I know she looks back on the time she spent swimming with you with great affection. It was the stuff that kept her going to end up her with our Club. Thank you for that. David

  • Sensible Swimming

    David – I have just looked at the results from the meet held in Auckland this weekend, the Anthony Mosse Classic which you obviously attended with your team. I notice that your young lady “Heidi’ improved her times every time that she swum over the weekend. Obviously something is working well for her now. Congratulations to you both. It also looks to me that the rest of your ‘rag tag bunch’ did pretty well. Am I right in thinking Rhi Jeffrey achieved her USA Olympic Trials qualifying times? Well done if that is the case.

  • David

    Sensible Swimming – Thank you. Yes Heidi did real well. I think she has the makings of a good one. She is off to the NSW Champs next week and hopefully will continue to improve. Rhi did get two further US Olympic Trials cuts. Thats four in total. She is a class act. It amazes me how often great athletes make their coach look good.