Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
When I was young, I was not a skilled athlete. I was kicked out of ballet by the time I was 6 and was the last kid picked for teams for every sport I tried. I finally found competitive swimming in my late teens and then open water swimming. Open water swimming is a sport that doesn’t require hand-eye coordination or speed. Instead, I needed to build, a strong biomechanical understanding of stroke to help me avoid injury while ensuring powerful, propulsion, a fierce determination, and an innate understanding that there are no limitations to the human spirit. With this, I was able to achieve what the experts deemed impossible.
During my swimming career, I set 16 world records, including becoming the first person to swim a double crossing of Lake Ontario, swimming across all 5 Great Lakes in a 2-month period, and setting the open water butterfly record of 80.2 km butterfly (in 63 hours and 10 minutes). Most of my swims surpassed both the female and male world record achievements.
Throughout my open water swimming career, I raised over $1 million for programs for children with physical disabilities. Once I retired from open water swimming, I started
coaching athletes with physical disabilities. It was exciting to share my experience and knowledge with new athletes and help them start to work towards achieving their goals.
What is an issue or topic you are passionate about or would like to see changed?
I am passionate about inclusion, especially the inclusion of young people with physical disabilities. When I was 10 years old I was volunteering at my local YMCA. There was a young boy with the physical disability in swimming lessons and I was asked to support him. I’ll never forget the first time I lifted him into the water. A huge smile spread across his face as he began to float and move independently for the first time. I realized that to him, water was freedom.
My life passion became helping other young people with disabilities find that freedom. I spent the last 35 years following that passion as an advocate and swim coach, helping young people focus on their abilities and see possibilities where others may identify impossibilities or roadblocks.
What specific strategies would you like to see parents, coaches, or sport administrators do to improve diversity in sport or progress your cause?
I don’t think there’s any magic to creating diversity in our world and in our sport. We are not coaching gender, shape, nationality, or disability. We are coaching young people. We need to be open minded and create a caring, inclusive, non-judgemental, welcoming community.
As a coach of athletes with physical disabilities, I have learned to focus on the abilities of my athletes. We first build a foundation of openness and trust and then identify their strengths and challenges. We build on those strengths and explore and minimize any gaps. We do all of this within a positive, inspiring environment with an understand that there are no limitation to what can be achieved.
If we just see each young person and coach them to their full potential, we are creating a path for future youth to reach their full potential and become role models and mentors for their next generation.
I have heard so many times that female athletes are not choosing coaching as a career because they have yet to see female coaches in positions of leadership. I hope by changing the lives of the young people with whom I work, that they will see the potential and the gifts that a coach can provide and choose this path as a way to make a lasting impact in the lives of others.
If you had 25 words worth of advice to share, what would you say?
Everyone should have a personal motto to guide and direct their lives. This will help align goals and values to ensure you live a positive, rewarding, productive life. (For many years, I lived by: Dream, Believe, Laugh, Achieve, Inspire. When Covid hit and my husband was diagnosed with a devastating illness within months of each other, I re-analyzed and started to live by a new life motto: Slow Down, Be Patient, Be Kind. I have returned to my original motto, but continue to retain the second as a way to live.
I am really excited to be a leader in transformational coaching. In fact, I was nominated for my honorary doctorate because of my work with Jean Cote and his studies on transformational coaching. One of Jean Cote’s cornerstones of transformational coaching is his 4 I’s: TRANSFORMATIONAL COACHINGxJEAN COTE RESOURCES