No more Dolphins, but the lessons live on
I didn’t have the purest of motives when I joined the very early incarnation of the Grand Junction Dolphins back in my early teens.
There was the opportunity to compete, to learn some new strokes. That might have been part of it, in addition to the chance to cool off in the swimming pool in Lincoln Park, a respite from lifting heavy bales of alfalfa and harvesting corn and oats out on 21 Road in stifling summer heat. There was the chance for a little travel, all the way to places like Montrose, for meets.
It was a way for the tall, lumbering rebounder who only occasionally managed to put the ball in the basket, the “all hit, no field” first baseman, the washed out middle-school linebacker, to demonstrate his mediocrity in still another competitive sport. Which I did, in spades, the day it was determined the backstroke wasn’t my event as I wandered from lane to lane in the old outdoor pool at Montrose, finishing dead last in what could have been a record slow time.
Mostly, truth be told, it was a great excuse to hang out with good-looking girls in swimming suits that highlighted tantalizing emerging curves, not an inconsequential consideration back in those more modest times.
Decades later, it was a bit different for another Spehar, a second generation Dolphin whose blonde hair would be perpetually tinged with a shade of chlorine green as she progressed from flailing pre-teen thrasher to accomplished competitive swimmer.
Along the way, there were many early mornings when we’d be loading Jessica and her ever-patient brother, both barely awake, into sleeping bags in the back of the old Suburban and heading off to places like Rangely and Meeker for a meet. One memorable early summer morning, “warm ups” couldn’t wait until the skiff of ice melted off the top of some very frosty water at the pool in downtown Carbondale.
There were long, hot weekends spent seeking shade in Lincoln Park or surviving the muggy heat at the Orchard Mesa pool as we worked Dolphin swim meets with the Blacks and the Portis/Williams families, the Bennetts and Chamberlains and other parents. We set up lanes and equipment, timed events, handled concessions — parental chores broken only when we paused to see how Anna or Char, Annie or Piper or Jessica, finished in their events.
We cheered our swimmers on, fists pumping, ignoring roped- off lines as we paced the edges of the pools as if our steps would make our kids faster in the quest for another split second before they “touched.” Somewhere poolside would be another more quiet presence, the slight, usually bearded coach they’d be checking in with after their swim for his critique and advice.
Back then, I respected Dale Leonhart for his coaching abilities, the way he could find and instill that little bit of missing technique, inspire that extra effort that might push swimmers to their personal best, manage kids and their parents in the midst of chaos.
Eleven years after Jessica’s last competitive swim, it’s clear that the most important things she learned while a Dolphin didn’t involve the freestyle, the backstroke, the butterfly or starts and strokes and turns.
More than a decade later, what she’s taken from Dale and the Dolphins is the knowledge that hard work yields results, that disappointments can turn into triumphs if you learn something when you fall temporarily short, that commitment pays off, that teamwork is something special. We’ve seen all that in our daughter, not only in her first real job lifeguarding at the pool she competed in, but also in her current personal and professional lives.
That’s why there was an empty feeling when I read a few days ago that last weekend’s meet would be the last under the Dolphin banner.
It isn’t just nostalgia. Young swimmers will still compete in that fancy new pool just off 12 and Orchard. They’ll hone techniques under a new coach while competing under the Maverick banner, and elsewhere high school swimmers will still learn from Dale Leonhart for at least a little longer.
I just hope the lessons learned under the new structure will continue to be as much about life as swimming, and serve them as well away from the pool as in it.