Freshman Rebecca Waterson lives at school and the pool. You will find her catching a nap in the car on the way to practice, staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool for hours every day, being yelled at to go to bed because she has to be up in four hours for morning practice or grabbing a snack in the kitchen. Waterson writes the biweekly blog “Chlorine Chronicles” on her life as a competitive swimmer.
I swam at the new Truckee Aquatic Center a few weeks ago. It was my first time there, and I felt almost as if I were stepping into a new world.
This place was so much better than the gloomy, concrete Truckee High School pool I used to swim in. With no windows, no deck space and an old, mildewy smell, I wasn’t surprised that the high-school pool was being filled in. Despite its flaws, however, I still missed that pool, and all the amazing friendships and memories I have made there.
The only thing that was similar between the two pools was the humidity and the scent of chlorine. Bright lights illuminated every inch of the new pool space. A large lap pool with diving boards, a climbing rope and a basketball hoop were on one side of the vast space. The other side had a kids’ pool with a water slide and a lazy river.
But straight ahead was a wall with a picture of my former coach, Debbie Meyer!
I ran over and asked my mom to take a photo of me in front of Debbie’s image. Seeing someone I knew and grew up idolizing on the wall at this pool was thrilling! All my memories of her at the Truckee High School pool wouldn’t be buried by concrete to make a storage facility. Her legacy as the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team’s former head coach would live on.
Debbie Meyer was a 1968 Olympic gold medalist. In fact, she was the first woman to medal in three swimming events at a single Olympic games, a record that stood for 48 years until this summer when Katie Ledecky matched her feat. I was 8 years old when I began swimming competitively year round, and I just knew her as Coach Debbie.
She would sometimes bring her three gold medals to practice to inspire us to train hard and get us excited about the sport. I remember first seeing them when I was about 9. I thought to myself, “This is what I want to do, I want to be a swimmer and go to the Olympics!”
Debbie taught me to never be upset about a single race because any race is just one of hundreds. This is something I’ve thought about whenever my event didn’t go as hoped.
I’ve also thought about all of the cheering she did for me during my first big meet outside of my region, my final at Far Westerns when I was 10.
Debbie was the star of the swimming community who hung the medals around our necks that night. I think that was when I figured out she wasn’t just our team’s coach. She was very special to the sport of swimming. I remember looking around and seeing lots of kids asking to have their picture taken with her, and parents so excited to meet her.
Whether I had a big, important meet or a small one, she always made me feel good about my races. Whenever my race didn’t go well, she would give me a big hug and tell me that next time I raced, I would do much better.
Debbie’s practices were hard but fun; her positive attitude always made the difficulty of the work-outs worth the struggle.
She had a tradition for birthdays – you had to wear a special cap. At the end of practice you would do the “Birthday Swim.” Everyone would try to splash you as you swam 50 yards of your best stroke. Your teammates would line up and down the lane splashing water at you. Survival was on your mind as you swam, and laughter rang out in the pool as you were tortured by your friends.
I remember once trying to do the entire 50 yards underwater, but one of the older kids grabbed me and pulled me to the surface to splash me!
I can’t remember any of the hard sets, but I remember these swims and pool games like Sharks and Minnows when we would have Fun Friday at the end of practice. Debbie’s big hugs and her bellowing “go-oh” during races will always be with me.
Seeing her recognized so visibly at Truckee’s new pool reminded me how lucky I am to have had her as my coach.
—By Rebecca Waterson