Faces In The Sea

Faces In The Sea #14 – Dave the Forever and Ever

“I don’t think this celebration is about me. It’s about us as a family. It’s never been about me.”

Anybody who knows Dave Kienlen would not be surprised to hear such words come from him during his own retirement speech. Look closely at those words, for they hold the secret that has eluded humankind from our beginning –– the secret to forever.

During the recent party to commemorate Dave’s retirement from swim coaching, one of the nearly three hundred attendees, a swimmer he once coached, described something she calls The Dave Effect. “He makes everyone feel like family,” she said, and she preceded these words with a statement so profound, I still hear it now, an echo in my ears.
“I barely remember the swimming.”

What a wonderfully peculiar thing to say in honor of a retiring swim coach. What a perfect thing to say about a guy like Dave. Just as he has always been eager to point out that the swim program he’s helped build is not about him, I imagine Dave would agree that the time and energy he’s poured into the sport of swimming over his nearly fifty years of professional coaching, has never really been about swimming.

Dave describes each of his swimmers as a diamond in the rough. If you watch a young swimmer attempt to master the complex movements necessary for a decent breaststroke, you see plenty of the roughness he refers to. You see the rough parts, but if you have eyes like Dave’s, you also see the diamond within. Imagine what a swim event must look like from his point of view –– a school of aquatic gems, some faster and more refined than others, but all diamonds nonetheless, shimmering in a small indoor sea.
Embedded in humanity’s DNA is a yearning for significance, to be more than we are. This yearning often pushes us to strive in an effort to stand out among our peers, and occasionally all that striving works. When I attend swim meets, I often see swimmers who are far more gifted than their competition. It takes a lot of sacrifice to reach such a level. It takes hundreds of hours in chlorinated waters, enduring the constant scrutiny of a good coach, but if a swimmer works exceptionally hard –– and if the swimmer is fortunate to have a body type capable of moving at high speeds, and has the means to afford all the special equipment and private lessons –– then just maybe that swimmer has a shot at national or world recognition.

But what of all the others? What of those who enjoy swimming competitively, but are too short or too skinny or too uncoordinated to compete at a high level? Are they not significant as well? If they’re fortunate enough to have worked with Dave Kienlen, they will know they are significant, because he cheers for each one, and his cheering becomes infectious. Spend a little time with him, and you’ll find yourself cheering as well.

One of Dave’s longtime colleagues said, “You will live on, Dave, forever and ever.”

What is the secret to forever? Dave has unlocked it. If you want to live on, well after your career and even your time on earth has ended –– if you want to be significant –– seek and find significance in others. Whether fast or slow, beautiful or homely, confident or shy, rich or poor, see the significance in every person. See them as diamonds in the rough. See them as family.

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