Thank You! How Swimming Changed My Life and Inspired Deep Appreciation

John Lohn - Tokyo

Thank You! How Swimming Changed My Life and Inspired Deep Appreciation

(From the November issue of Swimming World Magazine)

I’ve been covering this sport for 20-plus years, most of that time for Swimming World. It’s been a pleasure, and I feel beyond fortunate to have attended four Olympic Games, multiple editions of the World Championships and numerous events at the national level. Not sure what the future holds, but I am excited to find out.

Truthfully, it has been an unlikely marriage.

I don’t come from a swimming background. Played a bunch of other sports in my younger years, and while my best friend competed for Suburban Swim Club in the Philadelphia area, my pool exposure was largely limited to backyards and hotels. Sometimes, though, certain doors open, and you don’t know what is on the other side unless you walk through.

Growing up, I knew what I wanted to do for a career. Sports journalism called my name at a young age, and as I started college at La Salle University, I was given the chance to write for a local newspaper, the Delaware County Daily Times. Eventually, I was assigned a winter sports beat. Probably not hard to figure out which one, right?

As I walked into Upper Darby High School to cover my first swim meet, I had no clue what to expect. Heck, I wore a sweater, which didn’t mesh well with the 80-degree temperature inside the natatorium. Times meant nothing to me. I didn’t know if the pool was measured in yards or meters. Oh, yes, there was much to learn.

Brendan Hansen - swimmers

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

When the last individual event of the meet was contested, even a novice like myself could figure out someone special was in the pool. That day in the late 1990s, Brendan Hansen touched first in the 100-yard breaststroke while representing Haverford High. His closest pursuer was about 15 yards back. In a matter of 57 seconds, I realized something: “John, you better learn quick.”

Of course, Brendan went on to deliver a Hall of Fame career, flourishing as a collegiate star at the University of Texas, as a six-time Olympic medalist and as a leader for Team USA.

Indeed, I did all I could to learn about the sport. I relied on coaches, most notably Tom Robinson of Radnor High School, officials and parents to educate me. Fairly quickly, I started to know my stuff. Times had meaning. And with Hansen starring, I pitched a feature on him to Swimming World. Initially rejected, I inquired again a few months later, and was given the chance to craft a feature about Hansen and several other rising breaststrokers, including Ed Moses and Kyle Salyards. The work was deemed quality enough for Editor Phil Whitten to continue to hand me assignments, and the rest—as they say—is history.

There is no doubt which moment is my favorite from my time covering this sport. Seeing Michael Phelps win his eighth gold medal inside the Water Cube at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing is something I will never forget. And watching Katie Ledecky define herself as the greatest female swimmer in history has been memorable, too.

Yet, through a wider lens, being involved in the sport has provided a deep appreciation for the athletes. The sacrifices made—from early-morning wakeups to missing out on social engagements—speak to the discipline and dedication of swimmers. Predominantly, swimmers are excellent students, pushing themselves as hard in the classroom as they do in the water. And most of the time, swimmers are high-character individuals, polite and supportive.

When I look back at how I came to establish a meaningful relationship with this amazing sport, “lucky” is the first word that comes to mind. It may be cliché, but I was certainly in the right place at the right time. Now, a little more than 20 years later, allow me to address the athletes, coaches, parents, officials, fans, meet organizers and support staff I have encountered with two simple words:

Thank you.

3 comments

  1. avatar
    David Abineri

    Katie is doing very well but to say “Katie Ledecky define herself as the greatest female swimmer in history” may be a stretch. What about the accomplishments of Shane Gould, for example?

    • avatar
      John Lohn - Editor-in-Chief

      From a longevity standpoint and what Katie has done in comparison to her competition, the nod goes her way. Shane retired at 17. What could have been is always a question.

  2. avatar
    Dana Lawrence Lohn

    Hey, did you meet your wife through the sport?

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