During a recent swim practice my son was having a somewhat difficult time staying focused. One of the newer coaches walked over to me and asked if there was anything I could recommend they do to help him get past this momentary hurdle. Before I could filter myself so as not to appear an incompetent and clueless parent I blurted out “I have no idea but Coach Daniel would know!” Both the new coach and I looked at each other with a slight hint of surprise-mine coupled with embarrassment- but, nonetheless, what I confidently knew for sure was that Coach Daniel Richmond would be able to solve this little problem. I knew this because of the person I know him to be: a coach with tremendous passion for what he does and a person who exudes a contagiously positive presence every time he shows up for swimming sessions.
Richmond has been a part of our lives for about five years now and I have often joked with him (though I’m very serious when I say so) that we will follow him wherever he goes. It echoes the sentiment to my opinion when once asked during a survey “which is of more importance to you, the coach or the facility?” I explained that a great coach will bring out the best in a student-athlete no matter the facility, especially during the formative years of whatever sport is being pursued. When Richmond left one facility for another, we followed him. When he took a short break from coaching to focus on school I begged him to allow us to continue lessons privately and drove to whatever pool was convenient for him at the time. I realized very early on that I’d found a unique instructor capable of relating to his students in a way I’ve seen few others do.
I have watched Richmond transform the mindset and accompanying demeanor of a child who once exhibited great fear of the water and, over time, became a student who felt like a fish out of water when not swimming. I have seen him calm the nerves of an anxious swimmer and create in her a confidence that, frankly, surpasses my understanding at times. “How did he get them from that point A to this point B so quickly?” I often wondered. The more I observed the more I believed the answer to that question had everything to do with the relationships he’d forged with these most impressionable human beings because of the presence he had established in their lives as a coach, mentor and someone whom they felt cared deeply and honestly about their well-being as people first, athletes second. He always shows up, never takes offense when someone is having a bad day, and manages to invariably turn lemons into lemonade when transforming a child’s sour grapes from not having won that coveted blue ribbon into an opportunity for self-reflection and the sincere promise that next time will be better.
And, he actually also has a life outside of coaching.
Richmond, a native Memphian, is in his last year of nursing school with an August 2018 graduation date quickly approaching. He manages to stay on top of his studies and nursing clinicals (inclusive of work at Memphis Mental Health Institute) while coaching at St. Mary’s Episcopal School and the Ric Nuber YMCA, somehow not allowing the pressures of one to affect his presence in the others.
During this holiday season when I pause and consider the giving of gifts, items wrapped in boxes don’t carry the weight they once did. To me the greatest blessings are found in those immaterial gifts, such as the gift of one’s presence; it is irreplaceable and comes unquestionably from the heart, with a rippling effect to even the most unsuspecting recipients. For me and my family, Richmond’s gift of presence means so much more than my son having learned to swim. His presence has shown me how obstacles can be overcome when we have someone in our corner fighting for us and keeping us afloat when we feel as though we’re sinking. It has taught me that we are often stronger, faster, and more capable than what we think and at times realize this only when someone else believes for us.
Thank you, Coach Daniel, for sharing your gifts with all of us and for being such an influential presence in so many of our children’s lives and, consequentially, ours.
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