I’ve been sifting through some of my older writings lately, and I’m astonished at how little things have changed. I wrote the first part of this in 2011, and the second part in 2018, and could have easily written it yesterday.

Part 1:

I’ve come to the realization that we no longer have a free press in this country. It used to be that members of the media were observers and journalists, more words on paper than celebrities in their own right, reporting in a hopefully unbiased way on the things people were already interested in. Slowly but surely, these journalists became entertainers, enjoyed their own celebrity, and integrity in the media gave way to money. Corporations with political agendas bought up news organizations as corporate geniuses realized there was huge money in controlling the information people were given.

The media no longer observes, it directs and orchestrates where our attention is paid. They (along with our politicians) participate in the circus to divert our attention away from real issues, and onto the latest inflammatory drama. The danger in the loss of our truly free press is that we as a society have lost the ability to exert any kind of “peer pressure” on members who behave wrongly because the sleaze in question is bombarded with attention, cameras, and “journalists” from around the world, making their idiocy into a career.

Part 2:

Little did I realize at the time how ill-informed I was. I recently came across this quote…and was completely shocked by the date at the end:

“There is no such thing at this date of the world’s history in America as an independent press. You know it, and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinion, and if you did, you know beforehand it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allow my opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before 24 hours, my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it, and I know it, and what folly is this, toasting an independent press? We are the tools and the vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the Jumping Jacks. They pull the strings, and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

— John Swinton, CEO, New York Times, New York Press Club, April 12, 1953.

All I could think was “What the F***???”  Really? The CEO of the NY Times knew this in 1953?  Why have I been laboring under this false illusion for so long?  When I wrote the item at the top, in 2011, I thought that the phenomenon of corporate control of the media, and the complete selling out, were coincident with TV journalism and the instant celebrity of all who looked at us out of the magic box. That the sleaze was post-Walter Cronkite.

All I can say is that I think we want to be lied to. If we wanted our journalists to be JOURNALISTS, we would insist on it. We love the Great and Powerful Oz, and don’t really want to know what’s going on behind the curtain. And that makes me sadder than I can say.

Culture of Violence

I originally posted this to Facebook in February of 2018…and nothing has changed.

Another school shooting…another mass shooting. I find myself completely numb to it anymore. Not sad or “tense” (as some of you will think) or even advocating for change. Numb. Numb because if I let the heart ripping grief back in, it will overwhelm me. The darkest part of me shrugs and thinks, “Maybe this is America’s choice for population control.”

The arguments are tiresome and somewhat sickening. Yes, the gun is just a tool. No, this isn’t about lack of disciplining by parents or kids not tattling on their friends in time. No, taking away all the guns isn’t the solution. Yes, it is somewhat about our broken mental health system. No, everyone being armed isn’t the answer. Yes, “thoughts and prayers” has become an empty and useless sentiment. No, wanting to fix something that feels so broken is not “politicizing” grief. Yes, there will always be bad guys who will find a way to do harm.

Our problem, deep down, is our culture, and we need to own it. Whether we ultimately fix it or just accept this as status quo, we need to own the fact that we are, at heart, a culture that embraces the idea of violence as a solution to our problems. Don’t get me wrong: I love my country and the ideals we were built on, but the reality has unfolded in a bloody way. Think about it: we brag about how our Founding Fathers fought and killed for their beliefs; we euphemistically call our period of genocide and invasion “Western Expansion” and celebrate those pioneers who took territory at the point of a gun; we continue to wave the flag of secessionists who brought about the bloodiest and deadliest conflict in American history; we romanticize the “Wild West” as a time when right and wrong were decided by street duels and death; we chose a National Anthem that is a celebratory ode to war; we cheer movies where the hero ends the story by blowing away the bad guy. We must face the fact that, flag be damned, we have raised the gun as our true symbol of freedom and righteousness.

Being me, I’ve tried to figure out WHY. Why is the 2nd amendment the only one we fight so hard to preserve? Why do we argue so vehemently and with such vitriol at any whisper of gun control? It is a little too simple to say it’s money and the NRA. The NRA would have no crop without a fertile field to cultivate. So why is it that Americans are so ready to go all in for this one amendment while we shrug and turn away at the violations of free press and free speech and equal protection?

I think it’s fear and uncertainty, combined with the tangibility of “arms”. People are scared of how fragile their life circumstances are. We feel vulnerable to a government that can take away our money through taxes and our property through the power of eminent domain, and insignificant and powerless to change that at the voting booth in the face of billions in lobbyist money. The abstracts of free speech and equal protection are cold comfort when you feel like you are one illness away from losing your home. But a gun. A GUN is something we can buy, something we can touch, something we can own, something we can hide, something that scares other people, and something that gives us a sense of power. We believe we can defend our safety, our livelihood, and our property EVEN AGAINST OUR GOVERNMENT with the power of a gun, backed by the Constitutional protection of the 2nd Amendment. It is our line in the sand against fear and feeling powerless.

The sad irony is that despite the ideals of our Enlightenment forefathers, despite the beauty of the ideas they penned into the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, they chose violent rebellion as the mother to birth our country. That willingness to accept that the ends justify the means, no matter the consequences, and that blood must be the price of freedom, is embedded into our national DNA. We need to face it and own it, and then decide: do we fix things or accept the status quo?

The Level Playing Field

I think part of why we all love sport so much is that every game, match, or meet starts off even, with everyone having an equal chance to win. Teams of equal size, equal opportunity, the scores all at zero, the playing surface identical…a tableau of possibility and hope that we spectators can pour our emotions into, rejoice or mourn the outcome, then start fresh the next time.

As a coach, the absolute essence of competition was based around the idea that both teams were operating from the same basic framework of rules, events, and number of available lanes, with the only differences being who was on our team and how we chose to use our entries to maximize our chance of doing well. NEVER ONE TIME did any coach try to alter the rules in their favor, eliminate members of my team to gain an advantage, take away my assigned lanes, or outright cheat to win. Imagine your favorite sport:  your team shows up to play, and part of your team is barred from entering. Your scoring area has been reduced while the other team’s is larger. You’d be pissed, right? You’d scream, “NOT FAIR!!!”

That is exactly what is and has been going on in American politics for years. Gerrymandering has reduced the scoring area for Democrats across the country, which to my mind is just flat cheating, despite how “legal” it may be and no matter who is doing it. Writing cheating into law doesn’t make it right, and the concept of the winners getting to draw the districting map for voting was a BAD idea from the start. Gerrymandering has given a huge advantage to Republicans, who are now using that power to further abuse the rules of fair play.

Let’s think about this in terms of the NFL. All of the coaches get together to pass a rule that whoever wins the Superbowl gets to make a rule change that the rest of the league will live under. At the time, the coaches (all being confident in their ability to win the Superbowl) would think this was a great idea, and imagine some minor tweaks they would make. For a few years, the NFC and AFC trade wins, and the changes are relatively benign; then AFC teams win three or four years in a row, and the NFC coaches are disgruntled. A few of them get together, and decide next time one of them wins, they’re going to take advantage of the rule change ability to really make it hard for the AFC to win again. An NFC teams wins, and the rule change that year is that AFC players must play with their ankles tied together during the playoffs and Superbowl. It would be in the rules, but it would make it so no AFC team could ever win the Superbowl again. The level playing field would be gone.

Just this week, Republicans in Tennessee used a violation of a procedural rule (not a LAW, just a rule of behavior in their workplace) as an excuse to expel (not reprimand, EXPEL) members of the House who represent a large, mostly Democratic, portion of Nashville. They used their power to tilt the playing field in their favor and remove their competition and silence their “fans”. This idea offends me to my core. It goes against every single thing I operated under as an athlete and believed in as a coach.

I have to wonder sometimes if any of these Republicans ever played sports. If they did, they’ve certainly forgotten the lessons, and the concept of the level playing field.

If you have to cheat to win, is it really winning? If you have to bully to get your way, are you really strong? I have never understood how the people who do these things can possibly feel as though they’ve achieved something.

Where to Start?

I haven’t written in a while, and with everything going on, am struggling with where to start. To steal shamelessly from Julie Andrews:

“Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read, you begin with A-B-C…”

When I started this blog, it was intended to bring forward some life lessons I’d learned from coaching and apply them to life more broadly, and perhaps if I was lucky, be a bit inspirational now and then. I need to depart from that format for a while in an effort to try to make sense of what is going on in our world, and perhaps through talking it out, find a way to move forward in a way that feels positive and productive.

I read recently that Kansas has passed a law banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports…a law that apparently affects ONE person in the state. One. In a state of nearly three million people, THIS was the issue that rose to the top of the priority list for the time and attention of the elected officials of the state. THIS was the most important need to be addressed. Not the educational system (ranked 27th in the nation, with over 497,000 students in public school), or improving state-maintained roads and infrastructure (over 10,000 miles worth), but something that affects a vanishingly small percentage of the population. Really?

When I look at this, and at how legislators across the nation are spending their time and political power, I can’t help but wonder “why?” Why is so much effort being expended to stop people from expressing themselves freely, exploring new and different ideas, or taking care of themselves and their families in the ways they see fit? Why is this level of control being exerted?

When I was coaching, the teenagers always wanted to wear “technical suits” for their championship meets. These are suits that provide some degree of compression and water resistance, and the kids believed passionately that they wouldn’t be fast without them. No matter how much I assured them that it was the work they had done to prepare their bodies to race, and not the suit, they believed otherwise. Why? The suit was something tangible they could put their hands on, and it gave them a sense of confidence and control they didn’t have in themselves. The suit pacified their fear.

Coaching gives you the opportunity to observe people in a lot of different emotional states, and fear was one I saw regularly. I think humanity as a whole is particularly gripped by fear these days: fear of changes in our climate, fear of dwindling resources in an ever-expanding human population, fear of disease, fear of each other. These fears are real and valid and overwhelming, and hit at our deepest fear, which is our inability to fix any of them. When everything feels out of control, you seek to control anything you can.

I think leaders in churches and governments very sharply feel this fear of not being able to fix these things; they know they don’t have answers or solutions, and they share the fears we all have. Unfortunately, some are responding by inventing issues and targets that we can aim our fears at, that they can then “solve”. Like the technical suit, it provides a sense of confidence and control, as long as they can get us to believe that fixing these invented issues will pacify our fear.

Their solutions are lies because their problems are lies. Like the Wizard of Oz, they’re trying to distract us from the truth, and the real problems only get worse while they waste time driving us apart over who people love, how they dress, whether they choose to have a child, and what words are in books. They could 100% get their way in all of these things, and we would still be facing climate change, dwindling resources, possible pandemics, and even more fear of each other.

I find myself getting angry with the people who believe these lies and latch onto these invented issues as though they are the real problem and what is “destroying” America. When I feel that anger and frustration (and my own fear), I have to remind myself that they’re scared and overwhelmed too…they’re just more comfortable believing the comfortable lie with the easy answer than I am.

I believe we need to work harder to connect with each other directly and not fall into believing lies and easy answers. We need to not listen when a newscaster or preacher or legislator tells us how someone else feels, or what someone else is trying to do to us. It is not gay marriage or men in dresses or books about racism that are making our daily lives feel hard or the future feel hopeless. I have been trying to train myself, every time something elicits an emotional response, to ask “Why do I feel this way? What does the person telling me this gain from me being upset?” For me, it’s been a step in the right direction, and I’ve realized that most of the time the people telling me the bad things want my money or my clicks or my attention.

My other small step has been to try to listen and calmly respond when someone speaks out of their fear or ignorance or judgmentalism. I tell a story from my life that has shaped why I feel differently about what they said. If they don’t listen, or persist, or get hostile, I tell them we have to change the subject or I’ll need to walk away. It’s worked surprisingly well with some people, but full disclosure: it’s a work in progress for me to not just avoid the conversation to begin with. Introvert here.

I’m considering volunteering as a way to reconnect with community and do something tangible toward fixing the real problems we face. I’m not sure yet what that looks like, and am having a hard time figuring out what to do. More to come.

Whatever you can do to manage your own fear, find some peace, take a positive step, or rebuild community helps in this world. At a minimum, it helps your own stress go down. If you have good ideas, please share in the comments! Hopefully, I will be writing more soon.

A Season of Patience

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
(New Living Translation)

We all had plans. Plans to work, plans to play, plans to compete, plans to move. All of that has been interrupted and our lives are on hold for a situation unlike anything we’ve faced before. Are we overreacting? Not reacting enough? Only time will tell.

One of the news stories today is about the postponement of the Olympic games, and my thoughts have been drawn again and again to the swimmers who have been preparing for years. When I heard earlier this week that our local pools were closing, even to the swim teams, postponing the Olympic games was one of my first thoughts. I don’t know other sports, but in our sport, to deny athletes training time in the last few months prior to Trials and the Games is to derail everything they’ve worked for. But there are downsides to a postponement, too…some of those who are ready this year may not be ready next year. Life could intervene for them and they could end up not making the team in 2021 when they might have this year. There is a price to pay either way. It’s a “no win” situation.

There’s been a lot of talk of the economy and costs of closing businesses and shuttering public gatherings. There is a huge cost to these decisions, but again, there is a price to pay either way. The decision makers for the most part are taking into account what the worst case scenario could look like if we do nothing; we thumb our noses at them at our own risk. We don’t know what the right decision will have been until we have the benefit of hindsight, and maybe not even then. For some Olympic athletes and some regular citizens, there is no clear choice. Some will be hurt either way. It’s a “no win” situation.

We are in a season of patience, where we need to wait. Just wait. And wait some more. And try to find the patience to wait it out, find the strength to come out the other side, find the charity to help those who struggle.

For everything there is a season. This is our season of patience.


Coach Jill

In This Moment

When you’re facing a three hour long practice, or a long race, or the beginning of a grueling season, looking forward can be daunting. Trying to consider all of the possibilities, work to be done, and “what if”s can quickly short circuit your emotional reserve.

I have a series of photos, taken by a team mom, that show me waiting alongside a nervous 7-year-old in the lineup behind the starting blocks for her race. She had worked herself into a frenzy at idea of standing there waiting by herself, worrying over the race, how she would do, what it would feel like. I stayed with her and did my best to keep her just in the moment, talking, joking around, showing her she could talk to the other girls to pass the time.

When the things to worry about get too big or too challenging, the trick I learned (during my divorce) is to shrink things down into manageable bites. That old saying “take it a day at a time” is very true, but sometimes even a day is too big of a bite. Sometimes the mantra is “take it an hour at a time” or even just “this moment”.

It is a meditative practice to be in the moment; to realize the past is locked and the future is fantasy, that the only reality is in this moment. It is the only thing you have control over, this moment and what you do with it.

So breathe, and check in with yourself. In this moment, am I OK?  In this moment, do I have a home, a job, food in the fridge? In this moment, are the people I love OK? If you have challenges in this moment, what can you do in this moment to deal with those? Try to let go of the need to look out weeks and months, and churn over what might be, what the worst could look like, and how life might be different. Do your best to make THIS moment good and peaceful, and when the moment comes that there is a challenge to deal with, your soul will be ready.

Right now, most of us are waiting in that line behind the blocks, scared at all that we have stirred up in our heads. It is not our turn to face the challenge. We can be in this moment of waiting without being scared, we can lean on each other, we can find ways to laugh.

In THIS moment, we can be OK.


Coach Jill

You Are Not Alone

Individual sports (track, gymnastics, swimming, etc) offer an interesting experience for the participant. You train with a team, your efforts may support your team in term of points earned, but the competition itself can be a lonely affair. You stand alone, waiting for the signal to begin. The weight and pressure of the moment is borne alone, and as the crowd is silenced in preparation for the start, that moment can feel overwhelming. This is when the bonds of team are crucial. This is when you must remember, you are NOT alone.

At a time when things are difficult and frightening, isolating from friends can get overwhelming quickly. It is easy to focus on what is different, what is wrong, what is missing, and go down the rabbit hole, alone with the awfulness in your head. Catch yourself, and turn to your team. You are NOT intruding by reaching out, your friends are in this too. Reach out, check in, send a funny GIF, or even better, call and talk. Hear each others’ voices. Laugh. Write an actual letter and send it via snail mail!

Never forget, you have a team. There are more people than you realize rooting for you, praying for you, and wishing you well. You are NOT alone on that starting block; this is merely a temporary isolation. Look to your (metaphorical) left and right, and see your friends. Look around a little farther and see your wider team, your coaches, your parents, grandparents, and their friends. See your community. We are all invested in YOU, just as you are invested in us.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. As always, I am here if you need me.


Coach Jill

My Team

When I was still coaching, it was vitally important with every season, every group, to create a sense of common purpose, common discipline and common goals. That is the essence of “team”–working together to overcome challenges and achieve results. Sometimes sharing a common pain (like 5am practices) is enough to bond a team together. This, folks, is our time. Our team.

We are a team. You, me, my children, your children, the person that cuts your hair, the person that packed the Amazon box sitting on your porch, the lady in China that stitched the socks you’re wearing. A team. My team. Your team. Our human team. In times like these, times that pull the rug out from under “normal”, we all feel the fear in our throats, that clenching uncertainty with every closure and new announcement. What will come next?

As adults, that fear is an awful and unwelcome companion. We have forgotten our child selves, who lived regularly with uncertainty and fear. It is the fear of the young swimmer, standing on the blocks, exposed and cold, wondering what the next moments will bring. It is the fear of “Can I do this?”, “Will I measure up?”, and “What am I made of?” We adults avoid making ourselves vulnerable like that, so when it is thrust upon us, we panic, and build ourselves a fort of TP and hand sanitizer and hot dog buns, as though the things we own will allay the fear.

I cannot make your fear go away, but I can tell you this:  you have it in you to deal with this situation, weird and unexpected as it is. You are made of all the things you always were, all the unique and beautiful things that make you YOU, and you have strengths in there that will bring you and your family through this. You do not need to worry about measuring up; coping is not a competition, and how YOU process stress and challenges will not be what your neighbor does, and that’s OK.

I will encourage you throughout to be a person you will be proud of when this is all behind us; let it bring forth the best of who you are deep down. Do your best to uplift the people in your life. Enjoy the small things, hug your family, feel the love.

And if you need some cheering on, reach out to me. After all, you’re on my team!


Coach Jill





It’s an old metaphor, to throw a stone in a pond and watch the ripples spread and multiply, to remind us that the things we do have effects that we don’t realize or even intend. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to find out where a ripple goes. A conversation recently with a friend reminded me of one of my own; as usual, names have been changed, and quotes are somewhat paraphrased.

Coaching high school swimming was a mixed bag of frustration and reward. Grueling schedules, uncertain weather, convoluted rules, facility issues, kids not showing, flu season, low pay…the frustrations were many. The rewards felt fewer, but man! The rewards were huge when they came.

I was a great believer in a “no cuts” policy. This was a public school sport, and unlike other sports, swimming is a life skill, and a “save-your-life” skill as well. Over the years, we had many kids come to try the team who didn’t know how to swim at all, and just wanted a chance to learn. We took them all.

In my 2nd or 3rd season with the team, a young woman, a senior,  came to us during the first week of practice, and shared that she didn’t know how to swim but wanted to learn. Tiara was tall, thin and muscular, and looked like she had about 2% body fat, which is not really an ideal combination for an adult learning to swim. Fat floats, and learning to float is immeasurably important when learning to swim, so I knew we had our work cut out for us. It was a challenge, but she was determined, and so was I. We used aerobic float belts, kick boards, pull buoys…basically whatever it took to assist her with the float part so that she could learn the swim techniques that would eventually overcome her lack of flotation.

She was without a doubt our most dedicated attendee at practice, and worked hard. By January (our season began in November), we talked about her racing in a meet. She very nervously and somewhat reluctantly agreed, so we taught her to dive, and in a meet toward the end of that month, she raced a 50 freestyle for the very first time. It was one of my proudest moments as a coach, and I didn’t think I could be happier or more gratified with our work together.

I was wrong. You see, I hadn’t seen the ripple yet.

Fast forward a couple years to another meet, another group of kids. During a break in the action, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find a grinning Tiara at my side. We shared a big hug, and the talk naturally moved straight into “What are you doing these days?!”  She caught me up with what she had been up to, and then shared that since she left school, she had been teaching swim lessons to kids like her, teenagers who didn’t know how to swim. My recollection is that it was her appreciation of what we had done for her, what she had learned and overcome with the support of the swim team, that had inspired her to pay-it-forward.

I was floored. I thought that the reward from that stone I’d thrown in the pond was her personal accomplishment, but that was just the beginning. It was a stunning reminder that our actions have ripples, and that we don’t know the lives we end up touching without ever knowing.

This was a humbling moment. Fortunately in this case, the stone I threw created positive ripples, but the ripples of our actions can just as easily be harmful. It is a reminder to be careful and mindful in our interactions with others so that the ripples we make are positive, and that what others pay forward in our names are things we are proud to own. We may never know where the ripple lands, but if we throw our stones with care and love and concern for others, chances are the ripples will carry that as well.

Stronger Than WE Think

(Sequel to Stronger than You Think, published Oct 2014)   Recent events have had me reflecting on the items in this blog, and reconsidering writing. I am inspired by the actions of young people in these early months of 2018, and my writing may veer from my theme of lessons learned from swimming at times. My love of young people is a huge part of my love for swimming, so perhaps the “theme” will not deviate too much.

In October of 2014, I published Stronger Than You Think, a story about the gut-level strength and resilience of young people, and one swimmer in particular. I was in awe of her, as I am currently in awe of the young people leading the #MarchforOurLives movement. I’m not sure how many people are aware of what an important and pivotal moment we are in. I hear too many adults either being dismissive (“kids shouldn’t be doing that, saying that, thinking that, leaving school, marching, blah, blah, blah…”), or being completely patronizing (“you kids should be so proud of yourselves…look at you taking action like you’re grown ups!”)

We need to hush for a moment and really pay attention. We need to hear them, really hear them and what they are saying. We need to think long and hard about how difficult it is to stand up and stand apart when you’re in middle school or high school…you know, that age when conformity is EVERYTHING. We need to see, feel and appreciate the gut-level strength it takes to do what these kids are doing, and their persistence in the face of some pretty ugly backlash.

Working with teenagers taught me a lot of valuable lessons, perhaps the best of which was that as an important adult in their lives, I needed to not just react to them, but to think, to listen, to consider, to look underneath the surface, to seek understanding. The other lesson I learned was that teens tolerate ZERO bullshit, and they can smell it a mile away.

Watch the talking heads and you will see adults patronizing, dismissing, condescending, and generally engaging in bullshit trying to deal with the young people in this country. They couldn’t be responding in a worse way. They have no credibility, no trust and no traction. These kids have discovered their strength, both individually and as a group, and they will not give it up. I, for one, am a huge fan.

Swimming is an individual sport in many aspects, but one with a team element. The best individual swimmers have a strong and functional team they train with. Their focus and strength, their ability to persevere in the face of adversity, to fight for their goals…this all comes from the support of the team. #MarchforOurLives is a team worth watching.