Oct. 8, 2014
By John Patrick Bruno (’18)
When Beth Winkowski graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1992, she assumed her involvement in the sport of swimming was over.
“I thought I was done,” Winkowski says. “You know, you’re supposed to grow up and leave kids stuff behind when you graduate. I moved to London and worked with an attorney for a while because I thought I was going to go to law school, which I eventually did.”
Winkowski did attend law school and spent time in the legal field, but that career path proved to be somewhat unfulfilling.
“I had several really good jobs and internships when I graduated from Notre Dame and I planned to do environmental justice work,” she says. “One of the things that the University instilled in me was a desire to give back and take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. However, working in a law office, I seemed to be constantly looking at my watch and wondering when I could leave the office.”
Prior to her final summer before graduation from law school, Winkowski decided she would teach swim lessons and coach a summer club team. The job offered her a chance to be around the sport she loved and enjoyed before entering the work force as a lawyer. But when the summer came to a close, Winkowski accepted an offer to coach year-round on a full-time basis.
“The short story is that I decided I was not going to be a lawyer and that I would coach full time,” Winkowski says. “I believe that I stayed true to my mission of helping others through driving kids to become great, successful adults. I’m doing what I was looking to do, just in a different fashion.”
In 2014 alone, several of Winkowski’s swimmers on Dynamo Swim Club in Atlanta won USA Swimming awards and championships, two finished in the top 100 all-time in USA Swimming’s all-time group rankings, while four attainted top-10 times. Her team placed second at both the short-course and long-course Local Swimming Committee championships, and six swimmers won individual LSC titles.
In recognition of the success her team and swimmers have experienced both past and present, Winkowski became the inaugural recipient of the Fitter and Faster American Swimming Coaches Association Age Group Coach of the Year Award last month.
The honor is representative of everything Winkowski has meant to the age group and her commitment to young people. She is, however, quick to note that her achievements as an associate head coach would not have been possible without the guidance she received from coaches at Notre Dame, all of who played a large role in her success today.
“The lessons I learned from the coaches at Notre Dame, especially Tim Welsh, are with me everyday,” Winkowski says. “Initially, I was a little slow to absorb them. It took me leaving and then digesting them to really understand those lessons.
“Tim [Welsh] is a constant person in my head in my decision making. He operates with such integrity and character, and is very thoughtful in how he talks after decisions are made. I often find myself asking ‘What would Tim do?’ or ‘What would Tim think?’ because I saw him handle things so well when I was at Notre Dame.”
Another Notre Dame coach Winkowski credits with playing a great part in her success as a coach is former Irish assistant Randy Julian.
“Randy was Tim’s assistant when I swam there, and he now works for USA Swimming. I actually see him quite often during the course of the year,” Winkowski says. “At Notre Dame, Randy helped me find enthusiasm and passion when hardships arose academically. I think the lessons that I learned from him have been critical; the most important one being is that enthusiasm is critical if you are going to be successful.”
Winkowski, who is the mother to 11-year old, Ceara, also has stayed in close contact with former Irish swimmers and teammates. This past summer, she brought her swimmers to the Naval Academy for a week to camp and one of the guest speakers was former Irish swimmer and current Monogram Club President Haley Scott DeMaria.
“The kids loved her,” Winkowski says. “She was a hit and clearly their favorite speaker. They felt that she had a story to tell and one that they could follow and understand. Haley’s story provided them with the motivation to be the very best.”
With Winkowski’s coaching style, motivation is never in short supply. When she arrived at Notre Dame from Augusta, Georgia in the fall of 1988, Winkowski began her freshman year with a shoulder injury that obviously hampered her progress in the pool.
“At the time, I often wondered whether or not I should have been swimming and pushing myself through the grind,” Winkowski says. “But for me, one of my proudest accomplishments at Notre Dame was my sheer perseverance and will during my 18 months of rehabilitation.”
The values she is most of proud of learning from her own career at Notre Dame are the same one she instills into her age group swimmers every day.
“I continually instill in my swimmers patience and persistence,” she says. “We always tell the kids that swimming is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs as you progress.
“I put a quote on the board at the beginning of practice everyday. Last week’s was, ‘ten percent of life is what happens to you and 90 percent is how you react to it.’ Teaching people how to react, how to control that 90 percent, that’s what it’s all about. Fast swimming is great. I’m as competitive as they get, but that 90 percent, that’s what I hope they walk out here being able to handle.”
Winkowski’s career has epitomized what it means to be an age-group coach – cultivating swimming talent at every level, keeping swimmers in the sport, mentoring new coaches and laying the foundation for her athletes to succeed at the collegiate, national and international levels.
And that’s what made her such a fitting choice for the honor she received in September. But as Winkowski is quick to point out, the award encompasses more than just one person.
“The award is a reflection of the time and energy people put into me and the hard work of the coaches around me,” she says. “The coaches I had growing up really influenced the coach I am today. All my coaches, whether they were my favorites or not, are constantly in my head guiding me towards who I want to be in my profession.
“Dynamo is a big organization- we have 850 year-round swimmers – and the coaches here challenge me to be better every single day. The coaches who develop the younger athletes do a tremendous job. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is a reflection on our entire organization as a whole and the commitment and energy that all of us have.”
Winkowski’s favorite aspects of her job as a swim coach are the relationships she has formed with both her swimmers and the coaches she works with each day.
While her career path may have taken twists and turns, Winkowski is poised to continue motivating young people for many years to come.