Let me start by saying this. Four o’clock in the morning is early. It’s always early.
Twice a week; that’s when I’m awoken by the lovely Steve Jobs invention that runs so many of our lives, and I’d be a liar if I said I pop out of bed like a jack in the box. It’s 4 AM dude, it’s early, but this group is why I do it.
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with aquatic athletes for the past 13 years, all of which I’ve worked with a coach named Matt (Kredich and Barany). What the Matts have built is something that is completely unexplainable to those in the outside world, but I’m going to try to do my best.
This world of Richmond of Swimming and Diving is one of extreme hours, constant fatigue and effort, NEVER saying the “T word”, and a constant drive to improve. What has been built here is a program that is way more than getting up early and going to the Bugg Room with Jay and hiding a song on a playlist to make me uncomfortable, or jumping in a box of water and swimming down and back twice a day. It is a program that turns young women into superstars, and turns all of us into an extended family.
This group of young women, who are preparing for their main event of the year, the A-10 Championships, have one thing in common with everyone who’s put on a Spider swim cap and that’s their initial bracelet. I have one, Matt has one, Sean has one, Stacy, Mullins, Fern, anyone who’s “in the family”, we all have it, as do the athletes. It was something that started as the seniors handing something down to the freshmen, and something that has carried on. The athletes now, and all of us who have been involved with the program since May 9th, 2014, have a second band. It reads NML, the initials of Natalie Mattimore Lewis who lost her life in the hot air balloon accident with women’s basketba
ll legend Ginny “Dead Eye” Doyle. Coach Doyle will be inducted in the Hall of Fame with the 2011 Richmond Swim and Dive Team being the team of distinction.
It needs to be said that there is not a kid on this year’s team who really knew Nat. Some may have met her on recruiting trips, or seen her around the Robins Center as she worked with the women’s basketball program, but they never were teammates. Every single one of them wear her initials on their wrist tied in with their own and whoop bands, or on their backs at weights on their dry fits, or on their caps when they practice. They don’t have to, but they do, because the program is bigger than any one of us. Natalie is part of the family, and family is what brings us all together. Mine is on the wall of my cubicle sharing a pin with my initials bracelet that she made and the 2010 NCAA Tournament Ticket, three of my most prized possessions and memories of my 13 years here at U of R.
The athletes of today’s team wear her initials for one reason: that Natalie is their sister. She woke up and jumped in the same box of water that they did, she stayed at the same place in Siesta Key, and she put up with just as much of my awful sarcastic sense of humor as the rest of them. They wear it because that’s what family does, they stick together, and they work for each other, they strive for the same goals, and they have the same expectations that they’ve always had. We work hard in everything we do, and we race. We race hard.
There is no questioning that this program is the way it is because of the leadership it’s had, but the leadership has always had the right people in place willing to work for each other, no matter what the situation, or how tired they are. They know what they’re there for, the person in the lane with them and next to them, both at that practice, and practices that have happened and will happen in the future. This success is directly due to the culture put in place by the Matts, the inevitable drive to build upon the legacy of Richmond Swimming and Diving, and make Mike O’Toole find more room for banners in the pool.
It’s always has been and always will be about the family that gets up at 4 AM for each other to jump in a pool in Ohio in February. It doesn’t make 4 AM any more enticing, but if you wouldn’t do that for family and this group, then we don’t want you. Natalie would be smiling and going hard at 5:30 when “alright let’s get it rolling” echoes through the room. It didn’t matter if it was day one or the middle of finals, that’s how she was, so all of us will too. We love you Nat, and we are, One Richmond.
Written by Jay DeMayo, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach