True Confessions of a Providence College Swim Dad

Glenn CardSenior Analyst INovember 12, 2009

Greetings to all of the PC swimmers and divers,

It’s with great regrets that I pen this letter, knowing this may be the last I send to the Providence College swimming and diving team.

For the freshman participants, this will be a new event. Ask the upperclassmen about the letters they received in years past.

It doesn’t always work, but I do try to inspire and motivate you guys and gals toward the Big East Championships. I usually wait a bit later in the swim season, but this year I felt the need to push the “dominant class” beyond their comfort level.

You see, this season will be the end of an era for me. I’ve been a swim dad for a long time.

For me, there will be no more keeping a pair of shorts clean and ready to wear on those cold winter days, in one pool facility or another. There’s nothing like stripping off layers of winter clothing to spend a day sweating, all the while staring at a big rectangle full of water.

There won’t be anymore long road trips and hotel stays in towns and cities where the only place I will be a tourist is at another pool deck. I’ll always think fondly of wandering all over New England for those swim meets.

I think of all the quality bonding time spent in the car with my swimmer. One special memory was traveling to a big meet in Gardner, Mass.

We left a bit late, as the timing of these events was always in question with my swimmer. We had a nice chat with a county constable along the way, when he pulled us over after noticing us rushing through his town.

He was kind enough to give me driving instructions and directions to get out of his town and on toward the pool in Gardner.

Finally, we arrived at the empty parking lot of the natatorium only to find the doors locked. For once we had arrived early, way ahead of the rest of the team, as the swim meet wasn’t to be held until the next weekend.

The ride back home that day was even more fun than the beginning of the trip.

Early in my married life I had no idea I would become a swim dad. I knew a great deal about other sports, like baseball and football, and nearly nothing about swimming.

I envisioned teaching my kids how to throw a tight spiral or a slow curveball. Instead, I ended up learning mysterious terms like flutter-kick and grab-start.

Equipment costs are an expense a parent doesn’t expect for the sport of swimming. I first thought, “OK, what’s my out-lay for goggles, pool shoes, and a swimsuit?”

I soon became aware that goggles come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Try spending a week and a half tracking down the perfect pair, as described by the swimmer. Imagine showing up at the next meet only to see your kid to wearing the crappy $3 pair of goggles that you could've purchased at any dollar store.

When you ask your child what happened to the expensive pair you just spent so much time, gas, and money to hunt down and purchase for them, they tell you one of three things.

For one, they’ll say, “they broke,” the second excuse might be, “I lost them,” and a third response might be, “I gave them to so-and-so because they didn’t have a pair.”

Of course, that is just before they tell you that they need a new pair of goggles for the next meet, and could you see if you can find a pair with mirrored faces on yellow-tinted lenses this time.

I cannot tell you how many pairs of pool shoes I purchased, only to see my swimmer go barefoot at every single meet.

Occasionally you’ll get a request for a new swimsuit. You know the one. It’s the newest one on the market called the “Super Shark Double-Edge Razor Jet Pack.” It’s the one made of paper and has a one-time use...retailing for some crazy number over $500.

Apparently the suits I buy at sporting goods store during end-of-year clearance prices are only good for practice sessions.

Here’s a tip to the swimmers: When your parent asks “Why do you need that suit?” your response should not be “Because that is what everyone else is wearing.”

Instead, tell them this suit could really shave some time off your personal best times. I know I’ve caught myself reaching for my wallet when I get an answer like that.

A parent will do most anything to witness the fleeting moments of triumph to enter your lives.

On a personal note to my swimmer for a moment, Mathew, about that suit, for this your last season, my son..."Forgetaboutit!"

You’ll have to do it this year with heart, grit, and willpower. A few years from now when you might need a hand with the monthly rent or a car payment, come see me. I will have saved that swimsuit money for just that reason.

At this point, the question that probably needs to be asked is “Why does this not sound like an inspirational letter?”

Follow me for just a bit longer.

I think of the PC swim team nearly every morning. While you swimmers are in the dog days of the two-a-day swim practices, I know that you guys and gals have rolled out of bed, trudged over to the pool, and by the time you are finishing your first set, I’m sipping on my first cup of coffee in the morning.

I’m sure thoughts go through your minds like “Why am I doing this to myself?” or “Couldn’t we just have one long afternoon practice?” but you all keep making that cold trek over to the pool every morning.

I sat down and did the math the other day, and I discovered that through the last 14 years of pool-watching, I have seen my son swim competitively for a total of nine hours, 36 minutes, and 11 seconds.

Not really, but I bet that number is a pretty good estimation.

But that composite number of time also represents a tremendous number of hours of dedication to your chosen sport. I’ve only watched you swim laps; the reality is you swam miles and miles to make the time it takes you to swim those laps even shorter.

So the next time you step up on to the block to start your event, take a moment from your mental prep and take a look up into the stands. You’ll see us there; swim folks—we’re your biggest fans. We know the work that you’ve put in.

We’re pretty easy to spot. We’re the ones that wear the most PC garb.

The swim folks hang out in those stands chatting, swapping recipes and anecdotes. Whenever a PC swimmer steps to the lanes for the next heat, the question goes out, “Who’s that?”

There is a group-wide attention given to each swimmer. It’s easy for us to follow another parent’s child, as we also know we’re only going to see our own swim for a short time.

Not many of us were swimmers ourselves, but we know the sport almost nearly as well as you do. Our many years of observation gives us keen awareness of what constitutes a good race.

We also know all the little nuances. In those stands you’ll hear not only shouts of encouragement, but also mumbles in the arcane language of swimming.

You’ll hear things like, “Pace, pace, now race,” “draft him,” “reel-em-in,” and “nail the turn, kick and glide, glide, now pull out.”

We have not swam the same laps you have, but we know what it takes to swim those laps.

Most importantly, we care and we want you to know we care. We hope to celebrate your glories, but we are all too happy to slather on healing emotional encouragement balm if things aren’t going as planned.

At this point in the season, I know some of you are discouraged with the pace of your progress, but take heart—the effort you invest now will pay dividends by the time you’re shaved and tapered.

I look forward to seeing you all at the next meet, but I also look forward to seeing you at the Big East.

So this may or may not be my last season as a Swim Dad. I don’t know if my son will join a masters league after this, but if he does and he gives me a call with the right dates and times, he can count on me being in the stands.

Swimmers are comfortable in the water, and swim folk know how to be fans. It’s what we do.

Above all else, remember that someone cared enough to let you know that your hard work is admired.

“Be Proud!”

“Be PC Proud!”

Your fan,

Glenn Card


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