Fl p Turns
John Phelps ’79
Although I had been a good swimmer growing up, I never swam competitively. But when I started my freshman year at Saint John’s, a dorm-mate from 3rd Tommie Long, Pete Farrell ’79, talked me into going out for the swim team. Back then, there were no cuts. If you came to practice, you were on the team. I hope that is still the rule. (Editor’s Note: It is.) Coach Pat Haws welcomed me to the team even though he quickly learned that I would bring little talent to a pretty strong group of swimmers. Pete, for instance, was a great butterflyer. Pat patiently taught me how to properly swim each of the competitive strokes: free, breast, back and fly. I was miserable at back and fly but was able to swim free and breast without embarrassing myself or my teammates. I’m pretty sure I came in last in every event I swam that season. But aside from teaching me how to lose with dignity and some sense of humor, Pat also taught me how to execute a flip turn. That learning experience didn’t come without some pain—I split open my left heel one afternoon on the pool gutter when I turned too close to the wall. After a few stitches and a week or so on crutches, I was back in the pool. It took a while to bring my turns back in close enough to the wall to push off. My teammates got quite a chuckle watching me flip six feet off, flailing away trying to find the wall. I gave up the swim team my sophomore year and joined the fledgling club water polo team, which was better suited to my limited skills. My love for swimming, however, grew, and swimming became part of my life from then on. I still swim laps regularly to stay in shape. And these days, I’m one of the faster guys in the pool—I even smoke some of the 20- and 30-somethings in the lane next to me.
One of the things I most enjoy about pulling water is executing a “Hawsian” flip turn at the end of each length. Every time I jump in the pool, and I mean every time, I think of Pat and his coaching me through the tuck, flip, twist and push. It seems like a small thing, but it is a pretty big deal to me. Persistence, humility, discipline, teamwork and excellence—all qualities reflected by and refreshed in my own life in that simple turn. Thanks, Coach. John Phelps ’79 is CEO and executive director of the State Bar of Arizona.
“Inspiring Lives” is devoted to reflective pieces with a Saint John’s or Benedictine theme written by Saint John’s alumni. Please submit essays, poetry or other reflections for consideration to the editor: email@example.com.