Bidding Final Farewell to Coach is One of Most Difficult Aspects of Swimming and Life


Bidding Final Farewell to Coach is One of Most Difficult Aspects of Swimming and Life

Jamie Kolar was a former intern with Swimming World and continues as a regular contributor

In swimming, we generally think of losses in terms of racing or even practice. Losing a race, losing a bet with your coach or even losing your goggles. We never quite think of the loss that comes when a coach is no longer in our lives. It is said that some people come into your life for a reason, others just for a season or a lifetime. Generally, this is true. Time passes and people drift apart – for no particular reason, just a result of time and life.

Our coaches are with us for every season, for most of the time, year after year. They know us, see us for who we are, were and will be. They support us on deck and in our lives. We know them, sometimes not as well as they know us – but that is by design. We appreciate them and cannot see our lives without them — even if the time comes when we do not see them every day on deck. We know that they are always there somehow, rooting us on and hopefully proud of what we have done and who we have become.

What happens when the unthinkable happens and our coach is no longer with us on this earth?

Someone we just saw, just spoke to is suddenly gone.

I cannot speak for anyone else’s experience other than my own, as everyone deals with loss in their own way. Personally, I do not deal with loss well – in any capacity. I hate the idea of something being out of my control and having no influence on an outcome, especially not being able to fix or correct something I deem unfair or unacceptable.

So, when I heard news about the passing of my coach Karl Milkereit, I called him hoping that whatever I had read was mistaken. I called his cell phone a few times. No answer.

It took a few minutes to even acknowledge that the article might be true. It has been a few weeks and I still foolishly believe that somehow it might not be true, but I know how naïve that is.

I cannot begin to fathom how terrible this feeling is. This is a coach I have had a relationship with for several years. He wasn’t always my coach. Actually, most of my career, he wasn’t. He coached on a rival team but would take time to talk to me on deck or congratulate me on a good swim. He was gracious at all points in times. Humble may be a different story, especially if he was right, but overall, he was a model of how a great coach behaves and acts.

However, I really got to know him when I was home for the summer from college and he began coaching my new club. I was older at this point, and he had mellowed from how I knew him in my younger days as an onlooker. I enjoyed being coached by him because of his blunt commentary and his sense of humor. He was always honest, no matter if you liked it or not. Realistic, but never cruel or even mean – just matter of fact.

I remember him best in one specific instance. There was a practice in which we were doing 100s from a push with a goal time. He turned to me and said, “you are going to push X time.” The time was faster that what I had done on previous repetitions, so I laughed and responded with a “no way” as I felt the time was unachievable, especially from a push. He wasn’t seeing what I thought was funny.

He calmly responded that I was going to do it — and we were going on the top. Low and behold, I pushed the exact time he had given me and when I had finished, he simply told me: “told ya,” in a subtle brag.

He always had a way of believing in you, when you didn’t believe in yourself. It wasn’t blind faith either. It was honest and genuine. It was a challenge, but it was never meant to be easy. Whatever he told you, whatever goal time he gave, he truly believed was possible for you to achieve. Granted, those times were the results of hard work and effort, but he believed in anyone that was willing to work hard and put forth the effort in the pool.

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It wasn’t until later that I realized what a rare and beautiful quality that was and how underappreciated it was until it was gone. How cruel life can be sometimes and how ungrateful we can allow ourselves to be when we assume that someone will always be there. I cannot even state how guilty that makes me feel.

My intent is not to share a tale of woe but rather remind others how valuable your coaches are to your lives. Please always remember the role they played and never take them for granted, even if they aren’t directly involved in your life anymore. They always thought about us. We should give them the same courtesy. Honor what they taught you in and out of the pool. I know I can hear certain coaches in my head repeating certain words of wisdom.

Generally, I chuckle and smile at how their advice is still relevant. They really do know best.

For Karl, thank you for the constant support. Rest Easy.

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1 year ago

Tenderly nostalgic, thank you!
When the amazing Summer McIntosh will write her wonderful story at the end of her career (as late as possible), there is no doubt that Kevin Thorburn, the coach of her youth in Etobicoke, will occupy some of her finest pages.

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