Learning from an Olympian
April 8, 2008
Debbie Meyer is in her element, striding along the side of the Truckee-Donner Recreation andamp; Park District pool, coaching the young swimmers as they churn through their laps.She seems to be everywhere at once helping a younger swimmer get on her swim cap, hustling over to the other side of the pool to correct a swimmers arm entry in the water, or greeting an 8-year-old newcomer with an assuring whisper that she is going to have a great time swimming with this team.I have been involved in competitive swimming since 1960, says Meyer. I honestly think I have water in my veins. I guess that comes from being born at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Being a mentor and helping swimmers achieve their goals, whether big or small, is tremendous. These kids are our future. The life lessons and values they attain from the sport is great.If that name sounds familiar, its because Debbie Meyer was the greatest swimmer of her generation. In the years before and immediately after the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Meyer dominated her sport. She won three gold medals in those Games and during her prime she set 20 world records and held 24 American records. She was the first woman to swim the 1,500 meters in under 18 minutes and the first woman to swim under 4:30 in the 400 meters. In 1969 the Associated Press named her Woman Athlete of the Year and in 1977 her first year of eligibility she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.But despite all the years of swimming at such a high level, Meyer continues to bring an infectious enthusiasm to the Truckee pool as the new head coach of the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team. Every day youll find her in the water with her younger swimmers, showing them proper technique, encouraging them and sometimes grabbing a kickboard and doing kicking drills with them.It is a very young in ages and hungry team, Meyer says. They are very thirsty for technique and praise. For the little time I have been working with them, they have shown me how hard they work and how much they want to succeed.After retiring from swimming as a competitor, Meyer continued working in the sport. She was an assistant coach at both University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University and then she was the coach of both the mens and womens teams at California State University, Sacramento until the teams were cut from the budget.Shortly after that, she started the Debbie Meyer Swim School in Sacramento, a business she continues to own and operate.Meyer and her husband, Bill Weber, have had their retirement home at Tahoe Donner for 12 years but decided last year to spend more time there. Weber became a partner with a construction firm in Reno, and Meyer began working with the Truckee team.Meyer is still very involved in her swimming school.I started the school out of adversity, she recalls. I was head men and womens coach for California State University, Sacramento, when they decided to cut the program for lack of funds. I also was a newly single mom who had turned 40. My swim coach, Sherm Chavoor, had just passed away from pancreatic cancer and my grandmother passed from a stroke.So after moving back home I researched for other coaching jobs, but all the colleges had filled their openings as it was the last week in August. I found out the school was for sale and borrowed every penny to buy it. Besides my children and swimming career, it was the most rewarding thing I had done.While Meyer focuses these days on coaching and encouraging the young Truckee swimmers, parents and other adults she encounters are also benefiting from her life experiences.Believe in yourself, not only in swimming, but in life itself, she once told an interviewer. You always have to have fun. You have to have an open mind. If youre not enjoying it, dont do it. Lifes too short.
The Truckee Tahoe Swim Team is holding ongoing tryouts at the Truckee Pool on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5:30 to 6 p.m.