What a swim dad learned from the Olympic trials

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Ashton Ellzey

By MIKE HERNDON

As the father of two competitive swimmers, I and my household have been watching a good bit of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials as Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte and hundreds of other swimmers compete to represent our country in Rio.

Seven of the swimmers competing in the trials are from my daughters’ swim club, the City of Mobile Swim Association — quite an accomplishment for a city the size of Mobile, Ala. My girls have paid particular attention this week to one of them, Paige Madden, who is also a coach at their summer league pool.

I spoke with another member of the CMSA contingent last week as the group prepared to head to Omaha. Ashton Ellzey just finished her sophomore year at Auburn, and like six of her seven CMSA teammates (Madden, who is still in high school, being the exception) she is representing both her college and her home swim club while competing at the trials.

She told me about her excitement for the trip. She told me about the determination she had and the work she’d put in to earn a scholarship at Auburn and to qualify for the trials in the 50-meter freestyle. And she told me how, when she was younger, her father had to force her to go to practice.

And I thought: So it’s not just mine?

Yes, even athletes good enough to compete for spots on a U.S. Olympic team haven’t always liked to practice. And that makes it a little easier for us parents to deal with the whining when we wake our kids up for morning workouts.

They may never earn a scholarship or qualify or an Olympic trials. But the one thing that I will say with certainty is that my kids won’t spend all their time (some, surely, but not all) lying on the couch watching TV or playing video games.

They will know what it means to compete. They will know what it means to be a part of a team. They will know how to deal with failure, and how to deal with success. They will know, though they may not always like it, the value of hard work and practice.

And maybe, while they’re watching someone they know compete for a chance to go to the Olympics (as long a shot as that chance may be) they will have the same thought that Ashton Ellzey had a few years ago when she was in the same spot, watching other teammates head off for the trials.

“I was like: That could be me,” she said. “Ever since that summer, I didn’t miss a practice for that whole entire year.”

Maybe my girls will have that epiphany one day. Maybe not. It’s really OK either way, because even though they complain about going to practice, they always seem to enjoy being in the pool. And every day at the pool is a life lesson.

That’s what you call a win-win.

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The Herndon girls



Categories: Mystery Punch

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