Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My swim coach Bruce Calvert

Today I found out that my high school swim coach, Bruce Calvert, passed away. He coached at Cumberland High School for many, many years and was a staple at the school until his retirement in 2011.  At that time, I went home for his retirement party along with some of our friends and to celebrate our coach and friend, Bruce.  I was surprised and saddened to hear the news of Bruce passing away so suddenly today and thinking of him brought back so many memories.  However, to be honest, despite being out of high school for more than 10 years, he is someone I think about often.

Bruce is the only true coach I have ever had.  I swam on the Cumberland High School swim team for my 4 years of high school, with Bruce the coach the entire time.  I had been swimming my whole life, for many years throughout both the summer and the winter, and when I entered high school, swimming on the team was not even a question, just something I knew I would do.  Being in the pool was always something I loved.  I didn't play any other sports throughout high school and I never swam competitively again after I graduated.  Bruce was the only true coach I have ever had and probably one of the most unique coaches out there.  In part due to his quirky one liner and jokes, and in part due to the incredible swimmers he developed and coached in the CHS pool.

However, I was not one of them.

I was a mediocre, B-relay swimmer for all four years of high school.  I was an enthusiastic one! A loud one!  But not a hardworking or successful swimmer.  One of the reasons that I think about Bruce is because I wonder what my swimming career would be like if I knew what I knew now. And no, I didn't learn some magical technique to make me speedy. I just learned how to push myself.

Bruce was a coach who thrived off of hard work.  Maybe that's all coaches, I don't know, as I just mentioned, I've never had other coaches. But he would put in as much as his swimmers put in, always. He'd work late with them, he'd come in early for them, and he'd help push them to be their best. He loved the Cumberland swim program and swim in general and dedicated his life to taking care of the pool, coaching his team, and developing great talent. He was good at it too. He wasn't a touchy feely coach of motivational pep talks or inspiring words. Although he'd have us all groaning and laughing throughout practices and meets with the things that would come out of his mouth. He was unfiltered. He could be tough. And he expected you to come to practice to work, and would push you to your limit.

The thing is, I never came to practice to work. I never knew what it was to push myself until I was exhausted and then push harder. To have discipline and to not give up. To fight through the clock to be able to get a full workout in and finish gasping for breathe. To ask for extra work to do in order to be my best and to push myself hard. That wasn't me. I didn't know how to push myself. I didn't know that I could.

Throughout high school swimming, and any athletic endeavor or exercise I took part in until recent years, I didn't put in what I now know I could have. I worked at my comfort level. I stopped when I had a cramp. I made up excuses to go to the bathroom or hop out of the pool during difficult sets.  I didn't challenge myself and I didn't excel as an athlete. I was a B relay swimmer my whole 4 years swimming for Bruce. He worked with me, he coached me, he gave me advice and helped me improve.  But he couldn't put that drive in me to go all out.

I think back now what Bruce would say if he saw me training for marathons. Running faster on the treadmill to try and get in my miles before I got kicked out while traveling. Waking up early to get in workouts with a busy schedule. Going on runs in the rain and not letting small excuses stop me. Pushing myself to not quit even when I want to give up. Still swimming and going after workouts more determined than I ever have been. Allowing myself to live outside my comfort level and push myself athletically. I wonder what I could have done with him as a coach now.

When I last saw him at his retirement party, I wasn't the person I am today so he never knew these things. When I heard about his passing, I thought to myself, "I wonder if he'd be proud to see how far I have come?" and then I laughed to myself and thought... Ha. No. He'd probably be surprised! But then in all reality, he'd probably just say, 'Good. Why didn't you work this hard when you swam for me?' and then tell me to get in the water.

I think about now what I will tell myself 10 years from now.  Should I be pushing even harder?  Am I capable of more and am not realizing it?  You see, when I was in high school and swimming for Bruce, I didn't think I was being lazy. I thought I was working hard. I thought that's all I was capable of.  I didn't think my overweight, unathletic self was meant to achieve great things. I wished I could. But only wished. I didn't realize I could get there through hard work.

What would Bruce say to me now?  What would he tell me to do if he were still my coach?  Well, for one, he'd tell me whatever ache or pain I was feeling was, "just gas." And if I asked too many questions he'd tell me he was changing his name and was no longer Bruce so to stop calling him that. He'd make corny jokes. He'd push me hard. He'd give me personal attention and advice only a seasoned coach could. He'd make me better. And he'd tell me I could do whatever I set my mind to then help me get there. He was a staple to my high school memories. A goofy and fun guy who loved the sport of swimming and the job of coaching. He cared about and remembered each of his swimmers and took an interest in each of them. He developed athletes and gave advice, whether you wanted it or not. He made you better.  And he was that kind of coach.

Rest in peace, Bruce.  Thanks for everything you've taught me and all the swimmers before and after me.  It was a privilege to swim for you.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your article....it brought up great memories when I was on the High School swim team from 1978 to 1982 and I still stay in touch with people on those teams today. Everything you said about Bruce and how he would motivate, drive you, joke and react is spot on. Thanks for writing it.

    Steve Walsh
    CHS Class of 82'

  2. I swam for Bruce in the late 80s, and I too was one of the "B" swimmers (or the third place point-getters!). But it didn't matter to Bruce. He pushed me where he knew I could be strong (500 free - which I didn't even know existed until I started swimming for CHS), and I learned to like distance events. In fact, I'm still doing open water swims. He was SO dedicated to all of us, and you're right - he never missed a beat and knew us all (I think he even came to see me in the school play!). Appreciate the reminders of the snarky comments! Priceless. Thanks for writing this. (If there is any chance you can enlarge the text in the photo - it would be great to have that). Emily Mitchell, CHS Class of '90

    1. Hi Emily, if you click the picture, it should expand. Otherwise, if you send me an e-mail at Hungry20s at Gmail dot com, I will e-mail it to you!

  3. A nice write-up. Thanks for sharing. Here's an article on Bruce from the Valley Breeze.


  4. Great write up! Sums Bruce up very nicely... B or A, it didn't matter. I loved this man... I loved to hate this man at times and then I loved him again! He was our friend much longer than our coach in many cases! Love the "gas" comment... that brought me back and made me laugh out loud! He will always be cherished as a man who was so much more than a coach for me (and so many). I'm going to email you for the text in the photo too... I would also love to have that. Be well and good luck with your continued quest to work hard and achieve success fellow Clipper!
    Colleen McGarry O'Neil
    Class of 92

  5. Sorry that your coach has recently passed away. It sounds like you had lots of good memories of learning to swim when you were growing up. I read your blog with interest as my kids have just started swimming lessons which they love and I would like to encourage them to compete in competitions and relays when they are a bit older.

    Stella Hammond @ Palm City Pools