70’s Pittsburgh Steelers Shape Charleston Swimmer’s Life

Swimmer’s Tough-Mindedness

swim-around-charlestonKathleen Wilson grew up at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Three Rivers Stadium. Here she’d wait for the arrival of her Steelers, greet them, and then join her parents in their front row seats. “Honestly, my beloved Steelers, and those Sunday afternoons in the 1970’s, formed me. I learned about team and commitment from watching how those men performed and interacted. They were solid. Not flamboyant. Not attention seeking, just solid.”

Today, Kathleen uses these early observations and lessons in all areas of her diverse life in Charleston, South Carolina (SC). She’s a 30-year principal harpist with the symphony orchestra. She’s also a three-term city councilwoman and accomplished marathon swimmer and aquatics coach. Kathleen admits she lives a life of extremes.

She and her husband, Fred, have two children. Christine, 23, a U.S. Navy ensign, is training to become a helicopter pilot. Robbie, 20, is a junior mechanical engineering major at the Citadel. She’s also the proud caretaker of Lulu, Duke and Daisy. These rescue rabbits “are very sweet gentle animals fully capable of defending themselves when needed.” Kathleen knows both personalities firsthand.

To be successful Kathleen has blended fierceness with gentleness. She possesses a deep sense of commitment. This and her ability to press, and press relentlessly, originate from swimming. Being highly disciplined and enduring torment also originate from swim training. “Maybe that’s why I hold elected office.”

Marathon Swimmer

Post English Channel Swim with Coach Andrew
Post English Channel Swim with Coach Andrew

Remarkably, Kathleen has been swimming for 42 years. “I was not an outstanding swimmer growing up. I was the forgotten and ignored one.” It didn’t become clear until much later in life that Kathleen was an ocean swimmer, not a pool swimmer. She lacked speed for the classic 50 and 100 yard events. Instead, she possessed the tolerance and endurance for overnight ocean swimming and being pummeled in the rough surf.

Kathleen started ocean swimming after moving to SC in 1987. “I discovered I liked the ocean a lot more, given my lack of sprinting speed.” She settled into the waters and learned to handle the physical tossing around of the ocean and the mental game of being out there. It was appealing. It required Steeler toughness. She was all in.

She was fortunate to be coached by Charleston’s assistant USA Swimming coach Andrew Wunderley from 1998-2005. Kathleen talked Wunderley into training her for the 1999 Swim Around Manhattan, New York. He didn’t know anything about marathon swimming. Yet, over time, the duo became one of Charleston’s most successful coach/athlete combinations. Wunderley simply took the time to make adjustments to Kathleen’s technique and applied good, sound USA Swimming distance training principles.

Brought Sport to SC

Kathleen is credited with introducing marathon swimming to SC. It was virtually unknown before she participated in the annual 12 Mile Swim Around Key West event in 1997. Her 2001 English Channel Swim was big news locally. So much so that the local newspaper flew a crew to England to follow her journey. An entire region became familiar with marathon swimming and even hosted an airport homecoming celebration.

Kathleen’s initial goal was to simply complete the events. Now marathon swimming has morphed into a way of life and living at a higher level. “It’s about accepting hardship and challenging myself to do better. I’ve learned a lot about life spending countless hours training and swimming alone.” I’ve learned:

  • How to train properly outside of the water with weights, food and rest.
  • How to take care of my body, specifically shoulders
  • How to sacrifice to fund swims. These are not cheap.
  • How to value those who support and accompany me, including husband, Fred, and training partner and friend, Lesley Fanning. This isn’t a solo sport. Marathon swimmers require an excellent crew.
  • How to appreciate the adventures and experiences of these swims. I’ve seen and done things I never dreamed of. I’ve met people I’d otherwise never meet. I’ve put myself in extraordinary circumstances; some fantastic, some dangerous, and some challenges I couldn’t forecast. Sharks aren’t the most dangerous obstacle. The unexpected is. Wind, jellyfish and hypothermia also present challenges.
  • How to carefully plan. This isn’t done foolhardily. Alternate scenarios are prepared and everything is well thought out every time the open water is entered. This is not daredevil activity.

Public Office

harpWith an appetite for continuous challenge, Kathleen set her sights on representing James Island on the Charleston City Council. She ran and was defeated in 2002. She won in 2005. She’s now in the last year of her third term and plans to seek a fourth. (November 2017: Kathleen was not re-elected.) “I needed to expand my mind and skill set. Music is extremely isolating and one-dimensional.” Armed with a Bachelor of Music (1985) and Master of Music in Harp Performance (1987) from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Kathleen felt a bit intimidated by the process. “I had no law or business degree; however, serving the public and acquiring considerable knowledge and learning how to make sound decisions appealed to me.” Former Mayor Joseph P. Riley assured her the main skills were common sense and a good heart and that she could learn the rest. She has.

Presently, Kathleen is putting all of herself into getting a premier, major aquatics facility built for the citizens of Charleston. “No one ever died because he didn’t play tennis or soccer or ride a bike. Too many have because they didn’t swim. We are hopelessly behind as a community in creating good, sustainable athletic facilities that communities are demanding today. I will get this done.”

Swim Calm & Swim Around Charleston

SwimCalm Class
SwimCalm Class

As if being a member of the symphony, training for marathon swims and serving on city council weren’t enough, in 2010 Kathleen created Swim Around Charleston.  The 12 mile swim, hosted each fall, is an excellent way to introduce new swimmers to the sport. Participants also train for future swims and determine if the sport appeals to them. Swim Around Charleston is known nationally as a well-managed event.

Kathleen’s also founded SwimCalm, a course teaching fearful adults to swim.  Many of her students have failed traditional swim lessons. Under her guidance, they’ve gained both confidence and the ability to comfortably swim.

Soft People on Her Mind

So, what does this hard-driving, dedicated woman do to de-stress? “Baking is my therapy from swimming. Swimming is my therapy from life.” In addition, Kathleen enjoys reading and picking up bits of knowledge daily.

Watching Steelers football with bunny in team blanket
Watching Steelers football with bunny in team blanket

Spoken like a 1970’s die-hard Steeler’s fan, Kathleen is deeply concerned about the ‘softening of people.’ “It seems like we can’t withstand hardship anymore. There is declining knowledge and disinterest in important matters world-wide.” She believes everything is distilled into soundbites because of our failure to concentrate and see something from beginning to end.

She doesn’t lose sleep over this, but despises it. One thing she’s most grateful for is her lifelong excellent health. “Nothing can buy that. It’s impossible to recapture once gone. I treasure it daily.”

In the meantime, she’s going to keep fighting for a Charleston aquatics center, ensuring all learn to swim. She will continue to surround herself with a menagerie of rabbits. They provide much-needed calm and lower her blood pressure so she can keep doing what she loves and enjoys for a good long while.

©Copyright. October 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

Share this post with swimmers at all skill levels, those who think they don’t have enough time to publicly serve and those who just enjoy reading about inspirational people like Kathleen.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do My Stretch Marks Gross You Out?

I never got stretch marks when I was pregnant. In fact, I lost so much weight during the pregnancy I weighed less at Alex’s birth than I did in high school. That’s a whole ‘nother story. But, I definitely got more stretch marks in 2015 than in any other recent year. These marks I’m proud to show and tell about

What stretched you in 2015? What’s on your 2016 list for your personal growth and development? I prefer the term stretch marks to resolutions. How about you?

2015 Stretch Marks
1. I learned how to swim-a lifelong goal and one I blogged about in May 2015 under the category “scoliosis.” Nothing gave me more confidence up to that point in 2015 than this achievement. Many thanks to swim instructor, Tonya, for the training, coaching and motivation.
2. I birthed a website and blog in 2015. Like first time parents, this experience stretched me in all kinds of ways. Some days I rejoiced; others I cowered, and yet others I questioned my sanity for thinking I was cut out for this technical adventure. I love written expression and helping others share their stories through written words. For the most part, it’s been a tremendous success. What I quickly learned is writing is only a small part of having a successful website and blog. The technical and marketing aspects are equally, if not greater, in importance. And, I thank you for joining me on this journey and appreciate all the shares, comments and contributions you’ve made along the way. Keep up the good work, and I will do my best too.
3. Along with the website and technical challenges came learning to trust “remote” support professionals, including those in other countries whom I’ve never met or spoken to. It’s amazing how small our world is when one agrees to meet virtually.
4. I took my first online course on writing for the Internet in 2015. And, I did it in the midst of a major family transition. I missed direct interaction with the instructor and students. However, I enjoyed being able to log in when it was most convenient for me and I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching methods. Taking quizzes, contributing to discussion boards and preparing for a final-well those required dusting off cobwebs. Great fun! Great stretch mark. “A” on final.
5. Linda’s store on the website is major stretch mark. First, I had to shoot all the images and prepare them technically so they could be uploaded and then printed on products. Uff-da! That was a lot of work, but worth all of it. I hope you enjoy viewing the images and will consider placing an order through the store. It’s my small business at work and I thank you for supporting it and all other small businesses.
6. Contacting tourism agencies was another noteworthy stretch mark. As the year progressed, it became quite clear that my passion is visiting and promoting mid to small town America. More than that, I thrive on assessing the culture and heartbeat of a community and promoting it to followers who want to venture to and explore off-the-beaten-path places. This requires my cold calling or contacting tourism agencies and chamber of commerce organizations to collaborate with me. If you’d like me to visit your town and promote it to future tourists, tell me whom to contact. I will. I love travel. I love promotion. I love writing and I certainly enjoy seeing small towns gain additional revenue from visitors.
7. My palate was stretched in 2015. I tried Indian and Ethiopian food along with cuisine from Afghanistan and authentic Mexican fare. Thankfully my husband eats what I prepare and we’ve been enjoying expanding our food selections and preparing it in healthier ways. Recipes can be found under that tab on the website.
8. I was able to work with my husband, Ken, again for one night in 2015 as we shared red carpet interviewer roles for a corporate event. microphoneWe’d worked together for over 20 years before the business was purchased. This one night confirmed my passion for helping others tell their stories, even if only in sound bites on the red carpet. I hadn’t done this type of work in years and the preparation stretched me more than the event did. Once I hit the red carpet, I felt like I was home. I want to do it again!
9. Relocating stretched me in so many ways. I had to let go of “things” to simplify the move and re-learn that what matters most are the people in the room, not the room or the things in it. I’m afraid to say moving was “fun” for fear it will happen sooner rather than later, but approaching another move in 2015 with a different mindset completely de-stressed the process.
10. Home and furnishing purchases considerably stretched me in 2015. Realizing this may be the last time I purchase a house or furnishings touched me at my core. It took longer to find the ideal house because certain features like ranch style were not a choice, but a necessity. Understanding one’s own aging is not for the lighthearted.
11. Other than my own family perhaps, nothing opened my heart more or gave me greater joy in 2015 than being randomly boyzcalled out to dance with BoyzIIMen during their Las Vegas concert. Despite hosting a website and writing a blog, I am a private person who dances in the kitchen with the curtains drawn. I shun the spotlight at all cost. So, to accept the offer to dance in front of a sold out crowd and have my moves projected on big screens for all to analyze, was definitely a stretchable moment. Accepting the invitation on the spur of the moment rather than waving it off is more meaningful to me than the dancing, though I relished every part of that too.
12. The role shift as a mother stretched me most in 2015. Part of me grieves the loss of nurturing while the other part is purely at peace knowing our son, Alex, has found a partner who loves him equally as his parents.britt The calls for information, support and conversation have dwindled. I know these now go to the “other woman” in his life. We love her for what she is in Alex’s life and we celebrate the times we share together. Without speaking about it in technical terms, we all know and accept the role shifts, sometimes with more grace than others. My days of caretaking for a son will one day perhaps be reversed and that’s a role shift that will stretch me too.

I’m starting to create my 2016 list. So far I’ve listed: learn to play pickle ball, travel to the Pacific Northwest and visit at least 8 small to mid-sized towns to promote on my blog. Do you have any other suggestions to add? What would you like me to do and then blog about? Please share. I’m open to hearing your suggestions and trying new things, except skydiving that is.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

©Copyright. December 2015. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved.