Creating a Support System for Elite Athletes by Jack Nelson (1995)


Coach Nelson is the most successful High School coach in the history of swimming with 30 State Team Championships and over 460 All‑Americans. Jack has coached thirty‑six Olympians, including: gold medalists Joel Thomas, Paige Zemina, Dave Edger and Shirley Stobbs. World and U.S, record holders Andy Coan, Laurie Lehncr and American record holders Margie Moffit, Ann Marshall, Bonnie Brown, Tom McAneney, Seth van Neerden, and FLST’s national record men’s and women’s relays all achieved their marks under Coach Nelson. Coach Jack Nelson has been the coach of U.S. National teams in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1990,  and 1994. He was the 1976 U.S. Woman’s Head Olympic coach. Jack and Sherill Nelson were coach and head manager of the US Pan American Games Team in Venezuela. Sherrill was also the head manager of the 1987 Pan American Games Swim Team. These Games were held in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jack and Sherill participated as members of the USS coaching staff at the 1990 World Cup meet in Perth, Australia. Four of  the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team members were competitors on that United States contingent. In 1991, Sherrill returned to Perth as a member of the World Games staff. Joel Thomas represented FLST and the USA winning a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. In 1993, FLST had seven swimmers on the Pan Pacific Games team in Kobe, Japan. In 1994, FLST had seven men and women on the World Games team. Coach Nelson has the distinct honor to have been inducted into five Halls of Fame.. the Greater Fort Lauderdale Sports Hall of fame, the University of Miami Sports hall of Fame, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, the State of Florida Sports Hall of Fame, and the international Swimming hall of Fame.  Presently, Coach Nelson is proud that Raimundas Mazuolis was ranked #1 in the World during 1994 in the 50 meter long course and 50 and 100 meters short course freestyle. He is alsoexcited that Seth van Neerden is the American Record Holder in the 100 meter long course and 100 meter short  Course breaststroke. The Fort Lauderdale Swim Team now has seven National Championship titles along with eight U.S. Open Championships. The most recent championship victory was the 1995 Men’s Title at the Spring Nationals in Minnesota.


I didn’t win a national championship until 1991 and I was 59 years old. It doesn’t really matter.  Age is just a number.  It’s just interesting.  Schubert was winning them real early, but Schubert had something I didn’t have and it wasn’t just long blonde hair.  He had Miller Beer and Philip Morris.  He had Mission Viejo.  My friends, that’s hard to beat, and guess what, Mark didn’t invent it.  There were guys who you’ve been watching the last couple of days who were way ahead of him, and way ahead of me, coaches like Doc Councilman, Peter Daland, Don Gambril, and  George Haines.  Mark my words, you would have to scratch real deep to find a team that’s winning national championships, after national championships, after national championships, who does not have some sort of support.  It’s not a bad word.  Thank God it’s not a bad word.  In order to take a team of 30 to a nationals you’re looking at 30,000 bucks.  30,000 bucks if you pay all the air fares, all the land transportation, $25/day per diem, and all the rooms.  It’s wildly expensive.


One might think that I came up with the idea.  The idea kind of chased me into accepting it.  I want to share with you today what has happened to make my life so much more beautiful in terms of financial support.  But first, I feel that it’s important that those of you who have not had any knowledge of me before this, and even some of you who have, and haven’t ever been able to stand still long enough to  hear the whole story, I need to give you a little background so that you understand that the Dick Hannula’s and the Jack Nelson’s didn’t just pop up one day with a world record swimmer.  It’s after dozens and dozens of years of busting our butt and getting up at four just like everyone else and going to bed whenever we couldn’t hold our eyes open any more.


About rumors, I keep hearing things that can’t be true, but I don’t always have time to call the person who’s credited with saying it to check it out.  So sometimes it goes on and on.  I don’t know how many of you know Jay Fitzgerald, formerly of Santa Clara.  Jay Fitzgerald has just recently taken a job at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale.  Since I left Pine Crest in the summer of ’75 after having been there for 14 years, Pine Crest and Fort Lauderdale have been great competitors.  Jay Fitzgerald and I have made an agreement.  One of us will call the other once a week to deny what the other one heard that we said about him.  Now you see it’s so ridiculous.  We are all fighting for the same thing.  We’re all headed in the same direction.  We all want the same things.  We don’t need to stumble over what somebody said because you know  what-if you didn’t hear him say it, they probably didn’t say it.  If they did say it, it probably wasn’t said the way that you heard it.  That’s one of the reasons that I always try to say everything that I am thinking out loud so everybody  can hear me.  Nobody can ever say-“Well he doesn’t like me” unless I really say I don’t like him.  There’s not many people I don’t like.  There’s a lot of people I disagree with, most of them are up at Colorado Springs.


Let me tell you something about Jonty Skinner.  I have been a great admirer of Jonty Skinner ever since he came down to Fort Lauderdale one Christmas.  Don Gambril sent him down there to do a little training.  He didn’t come back because he broke his finger playing basketball with Duffy Dillon and dunking a little basketball.  Anyway, while he was there he got a little rub off on distance per stroke.  Later on he went on to bigger and greater things.  I want to congratulate him and his kids on the outstanding job that they did at Pan-Pacs.  I also want to congratulate David Marsh and Chris Martin and their staffs for the good job that they did at Pan-Pacs in Atlanta last summer.


The young people at the Pan-Pacs would have made you very proud. The American team seemed to be very much together and they were brought together by their leaders.  Not only the leaders in the coaching ranks, but the swimmers.  Tripp Schwenk broke an American record and we were happy to see that.  Amy Van Dyken broke an American record. That was beautiful.  Tom Dolan went the fastest 200 meter individual medley of his life and that was beautiful to see.  Probably the most exciting race of all was the men’s 400 freestyle relay with David Fox taking off in a 49.3, Hudepohl coming back with a 49.1, Olson coming back with a 48.1, and some little skinny kid by the name of Gary Hall anchoring with a 48.5.  He was a little tired I think.  But they broke the world record and I feel that the USA can just keep on going and go even faster.


Now it’s getting close to the time to start talking about creating a support system and I want to tell you how I started this.  In 1953 when I was 21 years old I started swimming in the Air Force. In 1954 Bob Kiputh and Mike Peppe came to Germany where I was stationed.  They spent two weeks there at a clinic and taught me how to do the butterfly.  That changed my life from football to swimming because that very year I was fortunate enough to break the world record in the 100 meter and 200 meter butterfly.  I was very surprised to learn it from a Major in Weisbottten Germany who asked me where I had swum in college.  I said I didn’t. He asked where I had swum in high school and I said I didn’t.  He said, “Well son, you just swam faster than Uri Tumpec, who held the world record  in the 100 fly and 200 fly.  You broke his world record by 3.7 seconds and you broke his 200 by 13 seconds.”   I said, “No Major, you have to be mistaken because there’s some girl over in Fort Lauderdale who cam beat me.”   I really did think that, at that time, because Carolyn Green, who is a swimmer in Fort Lauderdale and owned the world records in the 200, 400, and 800 freestyle, had beaten all of my 1953 times as a freestyler.  I didn’t realize that a man could do one stroke better than another.  I thought if you were a swimmer, you were a swimmer, and that was it.


You know, listening to Skip Kenny talk about how little he knows about swimming, I think that I can top that.  After 1954 I met Buddy Baarcke who became my dearest and closest swimming friend and he was also a world record holder in 100 yard butterfly. He took me under his wing.  He helped me a great deal to make the Pan-American Games team and then go on to Mexico City.  Keep in mind now, I started my coaching career in 1954, but in the meantime I’m going all over the world swimming in these meets. Then I got out of the service and went to the University of North Carolina for a couple of months before going on kind of a world record tour with some great people.  Finally, I wound up at the University of Miami in 1957 as a 25 year old freshman.  That was my fourth college and I managed, it wasn’t easy, but I managed not to get any credits in the first three colleges. I went to the University of Georgia on a football scholarship.  Then to New Mexico West in Silver City, New Mexico while I was in the Air Force.  I got out of the Air Force to go to the University of North Carolina.  Then finally I went to the University of Miami.  I didn’t have any credits so I got all I needed to do a four year course in three years.  I’m very happy to tell you I made the Dean’s List all three of those years.  I wasn’t really enjoying it. I just knew  I had to do it because my coach, Tom La Mar, chewed my butt big time and said, “You want to be a bum, or do you want to go to school?”   I said, “I don’t want to be a bum.”


I took a job a Ransom School, which is right across the road from the University of Miami, while I was still swimming at the University of Miami, taking 18 credits a semester, and going to school all year round.  Ransom had a three lane, 23 1/3 yard pool. It had a steel rail on the inside.  We managed to win fifth place, second place, and two first places in the state championships during the four years I was there.  I was also coaching Miami Shores at the same time.  So you have a school job, a club job and you go to school.  I am sure that all of you have experienced this in some manner.  I am trying to relate to the fact that anything in this world worth having does not come easy.


Then I left Ransom.  I went to Pinecrest and I was fortunate enough to have some great years there.  We had a four lane pool.  I moved up in the pools — we got one more lane.  I moved from a three lane, 23 1/2  yard pool to a four lane, 20 yard pool. It was two feet to eight feet deep and had a three meter diving board in it — believe it or not.  We had 6’7″ guys, Tom Hempstead and Tom McInenny, who were always cracking their elbows and knees trying to do a flip turn in two feet of water-especially in the two lanes that had concrete steps in them at the end of the pool.  But we managed and we finally moved up to the next level-an eight lane, 25 yard by six lane 25 meter pool.  Then finally after all those years without a long course pool I was lucky enough to be elected Olympic Coach in 1974, so I went to an Olympic size pool with the city of Fort Lauderdale where we’ve been now for 20 plus years.  Actually I was with Lauderdale as early as ’61 for four years and then went away for eight, and came back for the last 20 plus.


We didn’t have any money to speak of.  In my first job I made $75 a month.  You thought I was going to say a week, right?  You thought that was bad.  I made $75 a month.  That was under the table because athletes couldn’t accept money.  They could starve to death, but they couldn’t accept money.


When it came time to go on a trip, all the people who made the trip would pay for their way and also pitch in $25 a piece to pay for the coaches way.  Otherwise there were swimmers and parents who would go, but no coaches.  I just want you to know that this money raising business does not come easily.  With the Fort Lauderdale Swimming Team and the Jack Nelson Swim Club having been made up mostly of little people for most of my coaching career, we were not in a position to swim our men and women against any body else’s men and women because we didn’t have any men and women.  We had some little farmers, you know, that most of us do have.  But we did pretty well.  We surprised a few people and we scored in the top ten in the nation.  Every once in awhile we moved up to fifth.  One time we actually got up to second.  All the kids were still paying their own way.   The coach now at that point was able to pay his way.


I met a gentleman by the name of Norman Tripp about 22 years ago. He was a young lawyer and he brought his youngsters to us.  We raised four of his youngsters.  Pardon me, we helped him and his lovely Jane to raise those four youngsters, and he never forgot that.  He still hasn’t forgotten that.  Norman Tripp, a young lawyer, became one of the owners of Alamo Rent-a-Car and they did pretty well.  So Norm is the kind of a guy who likes to share and say thank you.  He approached my recreation director whose name is Tom Tapp. (Tom Tapp is the recreation director and that’s a plus in itself  if you can get the recreation director on your team.)  He said, “We’ve got to do something for Nelson’s team here.  He’s got some good kids and you know they’re doing pretty well.  Every once in awhile he wins one.  We have a record here and a record there. His team situation goes to pot when he gets to Nationals because he can’t possibly compete at that level because all those guys have college age swimmers and they can afford to get there and everything.”   So Tom Tapp says,  “Well why don’t we start a non-profit corporation and that way maybe we can get some funds.”


So how do you do that?  Well, you give it to a lawyer and they start working on it.  They work for two years to finally get a non-profit corporation.  In the mean time Coach Nelson calls up some of his former swimmers and says,  “Would you like to join the Swim and Dive Fort Lauderdale Group who are all going to be together strictly to support the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team and Dive Team?”   We struggled for, it seemed like four years, before we ever got a nickel.  One of my former All-American breaststrokers, Steve Vincent, who graduated from Pine Crest back in 1962,  pitched in $5,000 to start us out.


You want to hear something about ignorance?  On our first fund raising trip we got on the Gallant Lady which is a multimillion dollar 135 foot yacht owned by Toyota.  We had some of the richest people ever in the state of Florida on that Gallant Lady.   We did all sorts of things —   telling these glorious stories about how these swimmers had done this, and these swimmers had done that, and when we went here, and all kind of wonderful things.  They though we were great.  But we forgot one very important thing.  We forgot to ask them for any money.  We forgot to ask them for any money and they didn’t start throwing it.  They didn’t go home and start writing checks and send it to us in the mail.  So that was a real bust.


So then the committee had to get back together and try to figure out how do you go about this thing — asking people for money.  I’m the worst guy in the world.  I don’t even ask my wife for money. She might deny that, but I don’t like asking  people for money.  So then we said, okay, let’s do this.  Let’s get all the nicest people in Broward County and Fort Lauderdale and let’s invite them to a party and charge them more than the dinner’s worth.  Okay, real smart move, right?  So we had a party at the Marriott Hotel.   We had ten tables of  ten people.  That’s not bad.  First party we raised $10,000.


Keep in mind folks that $10,000 really isn’t enough money to buy equipment for your team, much less send them to a national championship. But, we didn’t give up.


The next year we went to the One Ten Tower and we had two hundred people and we raised $20,000.  Then we went to Pier 66 and raised more.  Then the Hilton Design Center and raised a little bit more. We kept coming up with new ideas — like a money tree.  You pay $100 and you go in this little air filled place with money flying everywhere.  You can have all you can grab in a minute.  You couldn’t grab much.  But, anyway, whatever was left over was ours. But you name it, every little fund raising thing you’ve ever done, we  tried.


Then along came a couple of beautiful ladies who just happened to meet my wife Sherrill and I at a dinner one night.  They said, “Well, we can do something for your guys.  They’re all going to make the Olympic Team.”  I said, “No ma’am.  They’re not all going to make the Olympic Team, they’re all trying to make the Olympic Team.”  So they throw us a little roaring twenties party. They made $23,000 on a little roaring twenties party.  The people there were thrilled to be a part of a patriotic event and a chance to give.  Boy that got us really excited.  We said, “Wow, we ought to do this every month.”  Well no such thing because there are so many people raising so much money for so many different functions that you actually have to get on the calendar or you wind up being on a night that two or three other functions are going on and the same people are going to those same parties.


So Norman Tripp decided well we’ve got to do something better here than what we were doing .  We’re just not making a lot of money. So we went out to the Swap Shop.  It’s the second largest swap shop in the world, owned by Preston Inn.  They have a circus there, I mean the whole ball of wax.  They didn’t tell me I was going to have to ride the horse.  At least they didn’t put me on the elephant.  Anyway, to make a long story short, that was very, very successful.  Everybody enjoyed it and we raised maybe over $50,000. Now you can only do this like once a year.


The most exciting is a black tie affair called Florida Leadership Night because Norman Tripp invites all of his political friends, and they all come because they’re all interested in making sure they get in a word with Senator Scott who is the Speaker of the Florida Senate. Senator Scott and his lovely wife have been close and dear friends since day one with no connections, with no strings, just good friends.  They go to our church.  They like our minister as we do.  So anyway, this last session they raised over $100,000.  Now that’s pretty fantastic isn’t it?   That is a lot of money.  You’d think, well boy that ought to last you for two or three Olympics.  But, not really when you go to Canada for a couple of Canada Cups, then you go to Brazil to a meet, then you go to France for a meet, then you go to the US Open, then you go to two Nationals.  I mean it’s overwhelmingly expensive.  Any of the money that I’ve mentioned to you is nothing compared to the money that some of the aforementioned coaches have had in their lifetimes. It’s nothing compared to what some college’s budgets are.  So I believe that the frustrating thing here is that nothing worth having comes easily.


They finally talked me into getting off the deck, putting on a coat and tie and going to lunch.  That kind of started the ball rolling to where we could get something.  Probably our greatest support has come from our hotel people.  Linda Gale, who owns a couple of hotels in Fort Lauderdale and who we try to out do, but we can’t possibly out do,  will give us as many as five rooms in the summer time to house our college swimmers.  If we didn’t have that situation there’s no way those kids would come down and swim in Fort Lauderdale in the summer.


I’m also very proud to tell you that all of those college kids who come down in the summer, I would say that 99 and 9/10 percent of them have been sent by their coaches, which pleases me very much. If any of them call me directly, I ask them if they’ve talked with their coach.  If they say  yes I say, “What did  he say?”  If they say “fine” I say, “Have him call me.”  If they say “no,” I say, “You talk to your college coach and find out first.”  I do not want to coach someone else’s swimmer, unless someone else is a Bill Wadley who says. “Coach, I’m going to be really busy this summer, will you take a couple of my horses?”  Or a David Marsh, who says, “You know this is going to be a tough summer for me, will you take some of my horses?”  I love it when a coach recommends a kid to me because that makes me feel like the coach has some belief in my ability to help them.


The belief in the ability to help them comes in a lot more ways than just coaching.   It comes in the fact that they have a bed to sleep in and a roof over their heads.  We can give them a job teaching lessons so that they can maybe eat. We have a couple of restaurants that will give us half price plus fifteen percent tip. We send everybody and their brother to the Floridian Restaurant because they will take care of our National Team at half price plus fifteen percent.  Morrison’s Cafeteria is the same.  Once a year Mario Spanache at Piazano’s will have a beautiful, beautiful  dinner for the National Team.


We have a lot of people who do a lot of nice things for us without handing us money.  For instance, we go out on a ninety foot sail boat  every once in awhile.   It was fun pretending that we were racing around the world, drinking our pop, and eating our chicken.


I feel that probably the greatest thing that’s happened as far as support for the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team is that with everybody in the community getting involved and wanting to be a part of it,  we now are in a position to at least afford to fly our youngsters to a meet and get them back home, feed them, and house them. Sometimes if we don’t have enough money  we’ll call up a former swimmer and say, “Can you give me your American Express number for an airfare?”  And they say, “Yes, here it is coach” because they remembered when they were trying to get somewhere that maybe we helped them get there.  I think you get most of your support from your swimmers and then beyond that, some of your swimmers’ friends.


We have one great man by the name of Richard Thompson who makes the absolute best pasta you have ever put in your mouth.  Even if it wasn’t I would tell you that because he gives us 45 big boxes of pasta each year.  We just hand that out to the kids left and right. It’s delicious by the way, Thompson’s Pasta La Bella.  He spent two years in Italy learning how to put the best pasta together and he’s done it.  He’s a big supporter.


Norman Tripp has spent thousands and thousands, and thousands and thousands of more time giving back to the program that what his kids got out of it.  We could use about ten more Norman Tripps but we don’t have them.


I started witting down the number of coaches who I worked with.  When I got to like 72 I decided I had better quit because you know that would be filling up too many pages.  But these are all the people that I need to thank throughout my years of coaching.  I want to try to leave all you folks with a good thought to help your neighbor.


I had an agent of a swimmer come to me in Rome last summer.  He said, “I understand you like so and so.”  I said “Oh, yes.  I think he’s great.”  “I understand that you’d like to have him swim for you.”  I said, “Yeah. Yeah, oh gosh, anyone would be a fool not to want a man of his caliber to swim for him.”  He said, “Well, what does this entail” ? I said,  “Well, here’s what we do.  We find him a place to live.” Like one of our guys lives with a Vice-Mayor of the town.  One of our guys lives with  Don Mungeon who is Chairman of Swim-Dive Fort Lauderdale.  One lived with Jorge Gonzales who we helped back in the sixties when he escaped from Cuba.  Two more had lived with Jorge and his wife until the baby came and we had to  find them a place.  So what it all boils down to is having different people who are willing to help and making sure that your kids are ladies and gentleman while they’re helping them.  Oh yes, so many to people to thank.


I also wanted to tell you a little about how this money is spent to take care of the Seth Van Neerden  who is an American Record holder right now.  When he first came with us, the best position he’d ever gotten in the nation was fourth.  Shortly thereafter, in Seattle, he became number one in the country.  Up until the time that he became number one in the country and was put under the US Swimming financial set-up, he was living with the Mungeon’s and eating, and the whole ball of wax, and had no spending money because we didn’t have any money.  But then when he did 1:01.67  in the 100 meter breaststroke there and got himself put into the proper position, US Swimming started sending him X dollars a month.  I think $2500 a month.  He moved out of the Mungeon’s and started living on his own.  Fortunately for us, except for a short period of time when Seth fell out of the money, he didn’t draw on the budget that Swim-Dive Fort Lauderdale had.  We have another young man who just got into the money making position in the world.  He’ll pick up $500 a month from United States Swimming. That’s Paul Nelson.


We have a number of other youngsters who receive like $625 a month from Swim-Dive Fort Lauderdale, plus their training, plus their equipment, plus their travel.  That would be: Jason Rosenbaum, (Frank Keefe sent him down from Yale), Bill Weaver, (William Wadley sent him down from Ohio State), Leif Engstram-Hagg, (I think JT asked him to come down-that’s kind of an inside joke), and of course Paul (who graduated from Minnesota).  So all these guys are in a position to receive $625 a month from Swim-Dive Fort Lauderdale.  Now they can either pay their rent with that, or they can eat with that.  It’s not really a whole lot of money.  But it is enough to tide them over to go along with their baby teaching job.  Or maybe one of them is working as a part-time engineer, or maybe one of them works for Ultra Cap.   But, none of our guys are rolling in it.  But at the same time we’re trying to make sure that they don’t starve.  We try to take them out for a free meal as often as we can.  Believe it or not, if you ask people, they’ll treat them.  We try to have a steak dinner, or something like that, for all of them, and also go back to our pasta man.


To make a long story short, I still have problems asking people for money.  It bothers me to have to call them.  I love it when they call me.  I think that they know that about me and they might even appreciate that about me.  I don’t know exactly what to tell you other than ask them, ask them.  Look in the phone book and find every corporation you can find, find every bank that you can. You have to write to them.  Then  you have to go see them.  Most times they’ve got a little money to give you.


The other day I got a call from a gentleman up in Ohio on his car phone.  He was saying, “Jack I haven’t been able to get down this year, but I just thought maybe I’d send you $500.  How’s that?” I said, “That’s damn good.  Just send it on down.  Make it out to Swim-Dive Fort Lauderdale and we’ll send you a little receipt. Make sure you take it off your income tax.”  That doesn’t happen too often.  But more often than not, one of my former swimmers will walk into the office and lay a hundred dollar bill on the desk and say, “Coach, do what you want to do with that.”  There’s always some hungry kid some place.


I don’t have any iron clad absolute set policy for raising money. I guess 45 years in the same town helps somewhat and for at least being on the positive side of the political end of things 51 per cent of the time.  I have a direct contract with the city of Fort Lauderdale.  All the money that comes into the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team goes back into running the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team.  No one decided that but Sherrill and me.  That’s the way it is.  We teach baby lessons.  We teach mud skippers.  We teach SwimAmerica, thank goodness, because Swim America feeds our age group team. Then we have a total of about 433 participants, babies all the way up to masters, that we coach.  I’m sure that some where along the way many of you out there have figured out better ways to raise money than I have.  But I’ve been one of the fortunate people after 43 years of coaching to have folks come and say, “Coach, we want to help you.”  I never say no.  You don’t want to do that.  I say, “Baby, that’s beautiful.   Thank you very much.  How much can you afford” ?  Once they start I don’t let them forget that we need it every year.


Sherrill is really the business end of our stick. She handles everything having to do with business, even the fund raising that we do for the Out-Reach Program.  That’s very difficult, also, trying to raise money through the non-profit corporation to help all the minority kids.  I think that maybe that’s a plus although it’s very difficult to get money for them as well.


Question:  What do I feel about swimmers who are in their older twenties staying in the sport too long?


Answer:  I don’t think that there is such a thing as too long. I swam my last race at 28 years old and I’ve wished that I could have continued swimming ever since.  I have a 30 year old right now doing the best times of his life, breaking his country’s records. I see masters swimmers going best times of their lives because they finally relaxed and started to enjoy it.  I just think there is a man and there is a woman.  You line up and you race.  It doesn’t matter what age you are.  It just matters how much guts you have and how much you want to lay it on the line.  Anybody that wants to swim is welcome in our place.  I was trying to tell people for years that a man can beat a boy and a woman can beat a girl. They’re stronger, they’re smarter, they’re more experienced, they’re more mature about knowing what they want.  I don’t think there’s such a thing as staying in a sport too long.  Ask some of these quarter backs if you think they’ve stayed too long.


I have a youngster by the name of Todd Pace who came with me at the age of 16.  Now he’s 27 and he’s still with me.  He just got fourth in the National Championships.  He wants to make the Olympic Team folks.  I mean he might not even make the finals of the Olympic Trials, but don’t tell him that.  He wants to make the Olympic Team.  He wants to be in the top two in that fifty.  Anyway he came with us before he got out of high school and stayed with us through college, and now has stayed with us after college.  Before he came with us he’d never won anything.  After coming with us he won the Pan-Am Games in the fifty, and the National Championships, and the US Open, all in the fifty.  That’s pretty fantastic for a kid — and they’re kids.  Believe me.  If you know any 26 year old men, let me know.


I have two young ladies who stayed with me for 18 years.  Today their names are Dr. Christy Woolger and Dr. Judy Woolger.  Those little farmers were with us from four and five years old. Sherrill was their first coach in the diving well.  They used to swim with a clip on their nose and little pig tails and their heads straight up out of the water.  They went on to doing great things for themselves.  But, as they got older they were stronger and they were better.  The only people who don’t get stronger and better are the ones who get sick or loose interest.  You know talent is something that you never loose.   Conditioning you loose and attitude you loose.  But please don’t kick the older guy out of practice. Give him a chance to be somebody.


Let me just get back to this real quickly.  I didn’t send out the word that all the older guys should come and swim for me.  It just kind of happened that after Todd Pace had success as an older graduate of college. Joel Thomas says, “Hey, what do you think about me coming down to Fort Lauderdale and swimming with you for this next Olympics?”  I said, “That’s great.  You better talk to Nort first.”  He talked to Nort, Nort and I talked.  Down came Joel.  About three years later the sucker made the Olympic Team and won himself a gold medal. Right now he is one hell of a business man. He’s the only man — he’s a 100 freestyler by the way, at least he believes he is — he’s the only man I’ve ever had to go 8,000 meters in one hour and forty-one minutes.  8,000 meters in one hour and forty-one  minutes and he’s a sprinter.  I haven’t had any of my distance guys go that.  Of course I haven’t had many distance guys since the seventies when a coach took seven of them to Mission Viejo and they never came back. So there’s all sorts of things going on in this world.  You just keep on rolling.


Now when I have a youngster from that coach call me to ask me if he could come with me I let one of my other coaches handle it. My coach says, “Coach Nelson’s not going to talk to you until you talk to your coach.”  So the youngster, according to my information, talked to his coach and his coach was not happy about him leaving, so he didn’t come.  I got to the Nationals and he was representing some other team, but he wasn’t representing my team because I don’t want your swimmer unless you come and say, “Jack, will you take my guy?  He’s a little bit old for my group.  I think he might go well with your group.”  I’ll jump on him like a duck on a June bug, but I’m not out to get anybody else’s swimmer.


I guarantee you that we turn away twice as many world class swimmers as we take, for different reasons.  Most of the requests are foreign swimmers.  Since Mark won the National Championship in the Men’s with all foreign swimmers’ points,  not one American scored, they changed the rules.  Foreigners can’t score at Nationals.  So now foreigners become a sensational load on your team. You can’t afford to find somebody to house and feed them if they can’t score for you.


I should mention some of my other kids.  Jim Montrella sent me down a beautiful young lady by the name of Susan Gottlieb.  Mel Nash sent us Susie Guyer.  Todd Torres who was at LSU with Sam Freas and had an NCAA Championship swim there.  He’s been with us about three or four years now.  He’s representing Puerto Rico, not necessarily by his choice, but they wouldn’t release him.  That’s a sure fire bet to the Olympics so he stays there. He’s supported by Ultra Cap.


Raimundas Mazuolis who’s an outstanding sprinter from Lithuania is with us. I received a phone call from a fellow Lithuanian right after the last Olympics, a friend of mine, who said, “Coach,  I have two outstanding Olympic swimmers for you.”  I said, “Great. Who are they?”  He said, “Well, they’re both Lithuanians.”  I said, “I can’t take them.”  He said, “Well, one of then was on the Olympic Team for Russia in the relay.  The other one was in the finals in the 100 breast.”  I said, “You don’t understand.  It’s not how good they are, it’s the fact that they can’t score points for the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team.”  If the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team doesn’t score any points, then when we get home those people who are supporting us will say, “Coach, what’s happening?  How come we can’t win?  We’re giving you support.”  We owe it to the local people to give them something back for their money.


So anyway, I turned them down for about seven weeks in a row.  I turned down these two young men.  So finally about eight weeks go by and one of my Board of Directors, Jorge Gonzales, who we took care of back in the sixties,  said “Coach, I can handle  one.” I said, “Well, if we have a place for the young man to live, I’ll tell Audrius to send us one down.”  I called Audrius and I said, “Okay, we can take one of those kids.”  He said, “Well one is a freestyler and one is a breast stroker.  Which do you prefer?”  I said, “The nicest one.  Just send us the nicest one because they couldn’t score for us anyway, so what does it matter.”  So Raimundas comes over.  Before he got married last July 7 he was the fastest man in the world in the fifty meters long course, fifty meter short course, and 100 meters short course for one year.  I think that was ’94.  Now maybe we can get him back before the Olympics.


Question:  If you had fifty brand new swimmers, and you are starting a brand new team under a totally different situation, what would your first move be?

Answer:  I would invite all the parents to come and sit with me without the kids.  I would offer to give them John Leonard’s book  “Parents, Coach, Athlete.” It’s a great book that parents need to read.  They need to understand that you’re not trying to insult them with the truth.  They need to understand that emotions blind intelligence and they need to either follow the coach or get another coach.  You need to tell them that nice and politely.  Then you go on and say, “Let’s say that your Sam does not make the A relay.  You still must support the program equally. Even beyond equally if you can afford it, because I’m going to be asking you to help.  I’m going to be asking you to work meets.  I’m going to be asking you to maybe sell food, or make food for the workers at the meet”.  You try to get them all feeling good about giving.  You know it’s really an interesting thing how good it makes you feel to give and if you give them that opportunity and you actually make them a part of the program, not a part of the coaching, not a part of the making up the relays, but you give them something that they can do to make them feel useful.  That really is useful.  Anything beyond that gives you a start.


I would teach that group.  I would not try to make world record holders out of these fifty kids.  I would first teach them how to read a clock, how to do a freestyle stroke, a backstroke, a breaststroke.  I also would recognize the fact that some of them are born to be breaststrokers and they ain’t going to be anything else. Some of them are born not to do breaststroke so don’t try to make IMer’s out of them.  Now in Junior High and High School and YMCA and college that coaches are forced, because of the nature of the competition, to have a backstroker, a breaststoker, a buttterflier, a freestyler, and at least three or four more freestylers for the relays.  In US Swimming you don’t have to have all that. It’s nice of you to have a relay in every age group, but you don’t have to have it.  What you should do, in my opinion, is coach them and teach them how to do it.  But always recognize where their real asset in swimming is.  Always keep your eye on that.


When Seth Van Neerden first came to me he was working on the 400 IM.  I said, “What’s the story on the 400 IM?”   He said, “Well I want to make National cuts.”  I said, “Excuse me, would you rather make National cuts in the 400 IM than to become the fastest breaststroker in the world?”  He said, “I’d like to become the fastest breaststroker in the world.”  Well he’s pretty close.  I don’t give a damn if he ever swims another 400 IM the rest of his life.  I really feel strongly about that.  I know everybody has their own ideas and they do it different ways.  But I’m pretty realistic when it comes to the fact that if I’m going to go up against Michael Jordan he’s probably going to beat me.  On one on one, half court, I think Michael Jordan is going to beat me, so I am not going to try to be the best on half court with Michael Jordan.  But I’ll whip his butt in a twenty-five yard butterfly kick.  That’s where I’d like to race him.  So I believe in coaching them to be better than  they are in what they do best, not trying to make them pretty good in what they do worst.  I guess we beat that to death.


Question about when to approach corporations.

Answer:  I’m not sure, but I think the different corporations set their budgets up at different times, but it probably coincides with the tax situation .  But all of them  who are making big money need to give away some money.  If you find somebody who’s professional enough and has the time to contact those folks they’ll be able to help you with that.  I have a lot of people who want to make me individual meetings with all the bank presidents.  Do you realize how many days that would be, how many hours that would be, how many painstaking get out of your shorts and your shirt, put on your coat and tie?  Believe me, it’s painful to do all that but it works if you are willing to do it. I would suggest that you get a real sharp lady who has the time to help you and then she can bring in some of her friends and they’re dynamite.  They don’t have any qualms about asking people for money.  By the way I don’t know that I invented this as much as it kind of found me.


Question:  You talked about giving back to the community. What kind of things have you done?  Answer:  One of the best things we’ve done is gone out and rounded up 400-450 little people who would not have the opportunity to swim at all if Sherrill had not beat the phones to death calling people for $1000 here, and $1500 there to sponsor that group for the summer.  We can’t do it on a year round basis because we don’t have the transportation to get them to us.  We can go to them in the summer because all the pools are open in the summer and we’ll send our swimmers out to coach those kids and to help them have their own competition among them.


We can join the Heart Fund and do a run.  We can do special things for special people when they need special help.  Once they know that your kids do that, you can dress them up, take them out, and let them be a host or hostess for a function.  People start to know and they’ll say, “Oh that’s the team.”


Right now, one of the good things which is happening to us is that we have some of our big, good looking guys-on the cover of magazines and the centerfold.  Well, in some cases they’ll give theem maybe five hundred bucks a piece for that.  In other cases they give them nothing, but they get the exposure.  That can’t hurt them down the road when like a Joel Thomas has a gold medal and he can go and make speeches and he can make business contacts.  He works for a city bank by the way and he does really, really well, as most of our guys do once they hang it up, once they do have their “field of dreams.


Question:  What is the team’s relationship with the City of Fort Lauderdale?

Answer:  The City of Fort Lauderdale is a co-sponsor of the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team, so when Fort Lauderdale swims in Cannes, France , or Calgary, Canada, or whatever, Fort Lauderdale receives attention for that.  Fort Lauderdale is a tourist town. It’s a beautiful tourist town.  We draw a lot of people to Fort Lauderdale.  We have swim meets and we have other functions at the International Swimming Hall of Fame to draw people in from out of town to fill up the hotels, who in turn help us.  Sherrill will put a number of officials in different hotels during a swim meet. Because she fills up the hotel, they give us a room for the referee or the head judge.


I would say go to your city commission or go to the people within the city who are promoting the city.  Ask them to help you promote the city, if you are in that situation.  There’s always somebody who needs help.  There’s always somebody who needs packets stuffed. Boy fifty little swimmers can stuff a lot of packets.


Question:  What is the single biggest donation you have received?

Answer:  Well, to be perfectly honest with you, I can’t remember us getting but one big check.   Big to me means like $30,000. That came from Alamo Rent-a-Car, whose owner and founder we taught his children to swim when they were little babies.  We never asked them for anything.  They just came forth and that really, really helped us.  Of course all corporations are subject to saying, “Well you know, you’re not in our budget this year.   So we don’t have any guarantees.  There are people in our area who are giving thousands upon thousands of dollars to other things, to other causes and they pass us right by.  We’ve just been really lucky to have a Norman Tripp, and a Michael Egan, and a Don Mungeon, and a Richard Thompson.  You know it’s catchy — if one gives and he mentions it, you know you go over and shake his hand, and say, “Hey, Richard, good to see you.  Thanks for the pasta.”  You walk away and somebody says, “Well who’s that guy”?   “Well that’s Coach Nelson, you know the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team and ….” The next thing you know, “Well tell him to come see me.”   Well you know what’s sad ?  I don’t have time to go see them.  That’s what is sad, because if I go to see them as often as they want me to I’m not going to be coaching.  If I’m not going to be coaching there’s not going to be a reason for them to support me.  So it’s a very difficult position in which to be trying to fund raise and coach at the same time.


Oh, are you ready for this?  One of my daughters came into the office the other day and said, “Dad did you get the call from Mrs. Sassafras” ?  I said, “Oh yes. I surely did.”  “Well, were you able to help her?”   I said, “Darling, Sweetheart, please don’t tell people that your Daddy can raise money for a thirteen yea old gymnast from Romania.  I am trying to raise money to feed these big horses here.”  She said, “Well I just thought you just went out and got it.”


Thank you so much for being patient.  I hope you find your pot of gold.  It’s usually right next to you if you just ask somebody.  If they say no, then you just go and ask 1,000 more.  Good Luck!

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