You could say Lisa MacLeod knows what it’s like to be in the water or surrounded by it — and not just because she’s a resident of Vashon-Maury Island.
The native of Great Britain started swimming in her youth. But for the last 16 years, she’s been mostly out of the water, standing by the pool coaching members of the Vashon Seals Swim Team.
From watching swimmers win awards to helping newcomers of the sport overcome their fear of the depth of the pool, MacLeod said coaching has been a fulfilling endeavor for her.
“There’s a moment when a young person who has been struggling achieves something through their own effort — that is inspiring because they recognize they have an ability to do something that they couldn’t do before,” she said. “My role as a coach is to foster that potential in young people.”
But now, after initially leading the team as head coach and later working exclusively with the youngest swimmers, MacLeod has decided to step away from the team all together. She said a large part of what drove the decision was being an empty nester at home and getting a new job in Seattle — but she’s also thinking about her team.
“Sometimes, it’s time for those people who have been there a long time to move out of the way for the new people,” MacLeod said, before referencing Bruce Jackson, who helped make the Seals team what it is today. “It’s great to be able to leave the team better than we found it … to have left that legacy for the new families to then take this on. I feel incredible gratitude to everyone who was on the team.”
MacLeod was recently honored by the team with a dinner at Vashon Island High School, in which a YouTube video featuring pictures of her coaching over the year was shared. A parent of a Seal, Charlie Choo, gave remarks, which he shared with The Beachcomber.
“While considering what I might say about Lisa, a flood of descriptive words about her came to mind: Strength, integrity, [resilience], tenacity, courage, authenticity, endurance — and the list goes on,” Choo said. “I’m certain each of you has borne witness to these character traits that has formed the basis of her coaching through the years.”
Coming on team Seals
MacLeod joined the Seals in 2004, when her child became old enough to swim. Although she wasn’t involved in a coaching role initially, it did not take long before she found herself in that position.
“Swimming was just such a part of my life growing up that it was really easy for me to step into a coaching role,” MacLeod said.
When she joined the team, it consisted of some 16 kids. Now, it’s 150 throughout the year. McLeod attributes that growth not to her own efforts, but the team members. They made the decision to move from practice at the Athletic Club’s pool to an outdoor one, which was bigger. Then, the team raised the money to get the community pool covered, so they could meet more often.
“They earn every yard they swim,” MacLeod said.
During her tenure with the Seals, she saw another islander, All-American swimmer Bruce Jackson, who is an organizational development specialist, make the Vashon swim team what it is today.
“That’s when we became the Seals,” MacLeod said. “It really forced the team to become much more professional, he really pushed for standards excellence, both in the coaching and the management of the club.”
MacLeod, using her expertise as a graphic designer, came up with the team’s logo.
MacLeod’s coaching philosophy
She said a swim coach’s role is about developing “the whole child,” and not just teaching them the skills of professional swimming. McLeod said it can produce a lot of anxiety for youth who participate in a sport in which they’re only wearing a bathing suit and being watched by a ton of people.
MacLeod said she wants team members to overcome the anxiety they might feel in swimming apply that mentality to other milestones in life, like taking a college entrance exam or a driving test.
“So, how can we look at how you cope with stress and anxiety and give you tools to be successful,” MacLeod said. “You’re giving them a life skill of accountability and effort that yields rewards; that they can overcome fear, deal with anxiety and be OK.”
But before many of the team members can recognize that they’re highly capable, she said, they have to overcome something else: fear of the deep end. MacLeod can think of many youths who fit that bill.
One student, the Seals coach recalled, was apprehensive of the fact that the pool’s water was deeper than she was tall.
“She would swim part way up the pool, then at the deep part, she would hold the wall and move along the wall, and then when she got past the deep part, she would move toward the end,” MacLeod said. “Now, she’s a state level butterfly swimmer at the King County Aquatic Center. It was a big deal for her.”
Kasey Kirschling, a member of the Seals, told The Beachcomber in an email the day she met MacLeod still has an impact on her.
“She has taught me that it doesn’t matter what you want in life. You can get there so long as you are willing to put in the time and effort to get there,” Kirschling said. “She also taught me how to be content with who I am and where I am in life and to fight my own battles. Though I know her help will always be there for all who seek it, she has helped me a great deal to becoming a truly independent young adult.”
Asked about the current crop of swimmers on the team, MacLeod invoked the mission statement: “personal achievement. Team unity. Competitive excellence.”
The statement gets her emotional.
“Every time I think about it, it kind of gives me chills because it’s so perfect; it so describes the team,” she said. “We really try to be very specific that it’s not about winning.”