Monday, April 18, 2011

Andy Coan: My Swim Coach & Mentor

Andy Coan remains one of the world's best and most inspiring swimmers, and someone I have had the pleasure of being coached by, not once but twice. We first met in 1984, when I was in need of a swim coach for my first Ironman. I was 43, he was 26. We ended up learning a great deal from each other, formed a great friendship and stayed in touch over the years. I happened to come across him again recently while I was - you guessed it - looking for a swim coach for my return to Ironman.

Some background about Andy: In 1974, as a 10th grader in high school, he went :20.6 in the 50 and :45. 85 both National Prep School Records. As a junior, he set an American Record in the 100 Free at :43.99 swimming for Pinecrest Prep school. He had the second-fastest time in history in the 50 Free at :20.19 right behind John Trembly, which was a National Prep school record. He had a great AAU season, winning the 1975 100 Free at Short Course Nationals and qualifing for the World Championship team. His high point was at the WC meet which he won the gold medal and set a World Record in the 100 Meter Free. He had a great career at the University of Tennessee - In 1978 he won 2 individual events (50 and 100 Free) and the 400 Free Relay in helping Tennessee win the NCAA Championship. In 1979 at the NCAA he won 2 individual events (100 and 200 Free) setting American Records in the process and was upset by Rowdy Gaines in the 50 Free. His times in the 100 was :43.25 and the 200 was 1:35.62. That spring he had the fastest times in the country for the 50, 100, and 200 Free and looked like a sure bet to make the 1980 team.

Shortly after the 1979 NCAA, Andy got into a car accident in which he broke both wrists and suffered a hairline fracture of the right kneecap. The doctors said he would never swim again. He was in the hospital for 3 months and had like 9 operations to put screws, pins, and plates in his hand. After being out of competiton for a year he amazingly went to the 1980 NCAA and WON the 50 Free. After that meet, and with the Olympic boycott, he retired from swimming. Here's a bit of Andy's perpective.

* * *

I’ll never forget the day Dr. Willix walked onto pool deck and marched straight up to Jack Nelson, my coach at the time and one of the greatest American swimming coaches in the world, and said, “Coach Nelson, I want to do the Ironman and my weakest event is swimming.” Coach Nelson looked into the pool and said, “I want to introduce you to world record holder, Andy Coan. Andy, I want to intro you to Dr. Willix. Take care of him.”

So I asked Dr. Willix for a couple things in return. I said, “Please help me. I’m fairly good with my diet, but in the middle of the day I feel like someone took a syringe and sucked the energy out of me.” He had me keep a food diary for a week, and explained to me, after he’d seen it, that he’d have a tough time feeding this to his dog. Maybe he said it more nicely than that. At any rate, he changed some really basic things and made a dramatic difference to me. Basically, he said to cut out white bread and white rice, and that you can’t ever eat too many vegetables or drink too much water.

He and I are identical in regard to the importance we place on Staying young at heart. I stay as healthy as I can. I eat well and work out almost daily. And the greatest thing is, at 53 years old, I am the single father 6-year-old boy, Richard, and we just don’t stop. I love working with kids. I coach some middle and high school kids locally, in addition to the masters. Some of my oldest swimmers are the youngest at heart. I taught 10-month-old babies how to swim and I freakin’ loved it.

Dr. Willix has become an outstanding biker, and running is something he’s always been good at. He has a drive like very, very few people I’ve ever met in my life, which makes my work with him easier. As I work with him, I have to understand to take it one step at a time. He’s usually ready to go on to the next step before I am. His drive is very refreshing to me. I give him 20 seconds to rest, and in 10 seconds he’s ready to go.

Dr. Willix is going to go exactly where he wants to go in life, and I will be there with him. I admire him for the things he has done. It’s an honor that he came back and grabbed me. I think we both look each other that way. We bend our schedules and we will get there. He will get there.

My advice to everyone is, take the first step. That’s something I do every morning. Today is a new step, and Dr. Willix is a new step in my life. Don’t be set in your ways. If I was, I would look at Dr. Willix, and think, ‘I can’t make time.’ You have to make time.

I chose to step away from a lot of what my business is (I was in medical sales for years and years). I took a break and spent a lot of time with my son, and I thought, I’ll never get this chance back. I chose that, just as I chose a place for Dr. Willix. People always give you advice; they say, “It goes so fast, take pictures.” But I’ve been real lucky to do so many things. To go all over the world, set records, accomplish things in the business world. But my time with my son is so enjoyable. If I choose ‘a’ or ‘b,’ and ‘b’ is more fun, I’m going down that road.

My son teaches me so many things. My perspective is not what I can get done in a business sense, it’s that I can’t wait till 2 o’clock to pick him up. People get immersed in work, and suddenly it’s 7 at night, and they think, ‘I have to go get my kids.’ That absolutely is not going to happen, even if I give up a large part of my income.

My son and I run and dive and play. I’m 53 and doing flips into the pool, and my kid is right behind me. He does a lot of things as a 6 year old that I do behind him, in front of him, or with him. I enjoy working with kids. Kids just do that in general. They give you a youthful insight that you may have forgotten, or learned something totally new.

My son and I were out during the Super Moon. Ever since he was little, we talked about the man on the moon. I asked my son on that night, “What do you think he’s doing?” He looks up there, pauses, and says, “I think he’s playing kickball.” Ask questions and listen. In business, you’re always looking for an angle. There are no angles with kids.

Dr. Willix has worked hard to have a choice. He’s worked diligently for years to create this opportunity for himself, and it did not come easily. For that, I will always have great admiration for him.

No comments:

Post a Comment