| Friday, April 21, 2017
One of the most sickening moments a parent can their experience is seeing their child struggling in the water. The only thing that can make the situation worse is being unable to do anything to help them. Frozen in this situation sixteen years ago, current Club Wolverine Coach Laura Cowley realized her decision to not teach her kids to swim was endangering the lives of her children.
“It was like slow motion,” said Cowley. “All I saw were [Shannon’s] little legs and my husband jumped into action, tearing his Achilles in the process. The most gut-wrenching thing was when he handed her to me after pulling her out, she cried and told me ‘I was calling for you mommy under the water and you weren’t coming’. It ripped my heart right out. It was in that moment I realized that I had to educate my kids on what to do and get them to learn how to swim.”
Within a few weeks she enrolled Shannon and her two sisters Johanna and Savanna in formal swim lessons in Maryland where they eventually joined a team. But learning the essentials of swimming wasn’t enough for Cowley- she felt she needed to learn every aspect about the sport and how to teach technique exceptionally well. She was fascinated with the technique and skill-set that swimming had to offer.
“I watched the coaches, how they interacted and I realized that the things that I watched these coaches do aren’t different from any other sport,” said Cowley. “So I just dove into DVDs on all the strokes, read articles, asked the coaches questions and I started to look into what older groups were doing.”
Eventually, this fascination and the urgency to spread the life-saving skill of swimming fueled her to pursue a coaching career at Club Wolverine.
Cowley had never swam competitively or coached, but after observing and learning the techniques necessary to coach she took action with the help of the head coach of Northern Michigan University Swim Team and started a local YMCA team in Marquette, Michigan–a team now known as the Marquette Aquatic Team. Over the next two years, the Marquette Aquatic Team doubled in size.
Eventually, Cowley and her family decided to move closer to her extended relatives in Ann Arbor, Michigan – one of the U.S.’s top swim cities.
“We moved to Ann Arbor to be closer to family, but we [were also really excited] to swim for Denny Hill at Pioneer High School,” said Cowley. “He was the mythical high school champion team.”
Shortly after moving to Ann Arbor, Cowley began coaching with renowned club – Club Wolverine. She started coaching there in 2008 and is now the Associate Head Coach who runs the 10-and-under program.
Her daughter’s near-drowning experience has continued to shape her identity as a coach over the past 10 years, as well as formed her philosophy of maintaining a fun atmosphere for her swimmers.
“I think that the biggest thing I’ve learned through Shannon was she had to have fun,” said Cowley. “That was a really important part [of helping] her get over that fear. If [swimmers aren’t] with the right coach who’s making it fun and giving them the tools they need, it’s just swimming laps. I want to instill the confidence in these kids in the pool and in life for situations good or bad.”
Shannon let the fun outshine any fear that might have been lingering from her near-death experience, going on to achieve some big goals in the pool. She is now in her third year as a NCAA Division I swimmer at the University of Vermont. Cowley’s oldest daughter, Johanna, was also a NCAA Division I swimmer and graduated from the University of Louisville. Her youngest Savanna is following in her sisters' footsteps, swimming as a freshman for her high school.
“I would have never thought that my kids would swim for Division I schools at all,” said Cowley. “I think it was fate that put us in that situation that led us to get involved in swimming. And I’m truly grateful for that.”