Denaj put his faith in swimming & created a SwimBrain

not to dive
Wait, why was I diving in high school?
May 26, 2016
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Denaj put his faith in swimming & created a SwimBrain


“I’m not interested in swimming anymore and I won’t be coming back to practice.”

That was a lie! Well at least the first part was. I was still interested in swimming, but as a recent high school grad with no recent time drops and nothing to aim for it all seemed pointless. I figured it was time to move on so I sent coach Andy an email. I kept it short because I couldn’t put what I felt into words and I also didn’t want him to question my reasoning. I just wanted him to accept it and move on, like I did.

He didn’t.

What followed is not a clear memory, but somehow he convinced me to stay in the pool. He told me to “give it a year” and if God didn’t open any doors for me by the end of the year I could call it quits. Andy’s faith was stronger than mine and thankfully so was his vision.

He put me in contact with Mike Simpson, head swim coach at Gardner-Webb University. Mike was starting a men’s swim team and was looking for a couple of “good guys” to kick it off and less than year after my first conversation with Mike that’s exactly what I was doing – kicking it off.  

The next three and a half years were a blur of sore muscles, new friendships, foggy goggles, all nighters, trips to the ER and the list goes on. Unfortunately, I suffered an injury and wasn’t able to remain on the swim team, yet today when I reflect and ask myself if it was worth it, the answer is a firm yes. It was worth it not only for the life-changing experience of racing on a D1 swimming team, but also for the invaluable friendships that time has yet to dissolve.

It’s interesting, when I considered swimming in college as a teen I only thought about the painful sets I would be swimming and the early mornings I would hate my life. Now when I think of college swimming I remember those painful sets and I remember leaving my bed to zombie-walk through snow at 5 a.m. and get into a cold pool that I loathed, but the sets and the practices are a faded memory. My most vivid memories are laughing uncontrollably at 2 a.m. in the morning, being pseudo-adopted by the most loving family in the whole world, eating together, crying together and doing life together.

10 years later I am still “coming back to practice”, but this time as a coach. I am mentoring and teaching young swimmers around the world to race like Olympians by training their minds. I am supplying coaches with the latest swimming research and guiding them through implementing that research. I am leading a revolution in the sport of swimming. I am doing what I love.

I went back home and thanked Andy for everything that he’d done for me and I can clearly see that it’s because of people like him and experiences like swimming in college that I am who I am today.


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