An era has ended. Iowa Swimming has become better because of the coaches who sacrificed so much for the sport and the club(s) they love. Where most coaches would rather retire, some are forced out of their positions, for whatever reason(s). Dave Joenson is one of those coaches who was forced from his position…a man who gave his all for this sport and CIA (Central Iowa Aquatics) and had a positive influence on so many. I write a brief history of this club, how this man changed my life, and how his being forced out of his position as founder/head coach of CIA is sad and how the original meaning behind CIA has been lost on many of the current (newer) families and club board members.
I was 10 years old when I started swim lessons through Ames Parks and Rec. My friend, Willa Fisher told me one day to try the swim team in Ames, ACAC (Ames Cyclone Aquatics Club). This was the first time swimming changed my life. I remember the day I walked in to the Ames High pool thinking, “Shit, what did I get myself into.” Little did I know that competitive swimming would consume my life well into my 20’s and still be a part of my life today. For once a swimmer, always a swimmer.
As with any sport, athletes will cycle through coaches, with some of those coaches having more influence than others. I had 4 such coaches in my swimming career. Scott Paulson, my first coach at ACAC that I actually listened to and trusted, Ramsey VanHorn, my first stroke/private coach and former ISU Women’s Swim coach, Tim Teeter, the second coach at ACAC (after Scott left ACAC and current ACAC coach) that I listened to, and Dave Joenson, the coach I spent the most of my swimming career with and who had the most influence on me, at CIA (Central Iowa Aquatics).
USA Swimming in the state of Iowa is a family; dysfunctional at its best, but a family none the less. Issues in clubs don’t often occur because of the swimmers, themselves, but because of the parents. Parents do play a hugely positive role in many aspects of swimming, but more often than not, parents forget the term “for the benefit of the swimmer” and focus more on their own agendas, greed, and biased views of what a club and coach should be instead of letting the coach (the trained professional) do what’s best for the swimmer and club. With that being said, without the parents, in most clubs, the club itself, meets, etc., would struggle to exist, if at all. There is a fine line of what the role of parents should play in the club, and when that line is crossed clubs begin to have issues. On occasion, there are bad coaches; the coaches who don’t follow “for the benefit of the swimmer.” Fortunately, those coaches are few and far between, as I speak to the sport of swimming, and from my experience.
What I write about today is from a unique perspective. I write as a former competitive swimmer, whose parents were on the board of ACAC (my mother was the president of ACAC at one point), having my mother on the ISI (Iowa Swimming Inc.) board, and then finally as a competitive swim coach for the team that gave me so much. Today, I want to write about an amazing man and coach who has had, and still has, a ginormous impact on my life, Dave Joenson.
Dave entered my life in 1996, the spring of my sophomore year of high school. A new swim team, CIA (Central Iowa Aquatics) is in it’s infancy as a club. I had outgrown ACAC at the time, Tim Teeter had left ACAC, and my personality clashed epically with the current ACAC coaches. So, my father called DMSF to see if there was space for me. My father was told by the DMSF coach at the time that there “wasn’t room for the VanMeter family.” My father, not being discouraged, had heard some rumors that a new team, CIA had formed. Dad’s next call was to Dave. Dave and CIA welcomed the VanMeter family with open arms. I am the 5th girl to join the team. CIA formed as a result of several families splitting off from another Des Moines swim team DMSF, due to coaching and board issues. The main mission of CIA was to provide the best swimming environment possible for the swimmers with quality coaching, through knowledge, quality practices, and caring, while letting the coach(s), coach, and the board would trust Dave to lead and do his job, without interference.
April of 1996 was the second time that swimming would change my life. CIA was in its infancy; we had very little funds, we had few numbers, but we had a pool, and we had Dave. For a long time we called him Mr. Joenson. Our indoor pool was in the basement of Central Campus in Des Moines. We had a 6 lane, 25 yard pool, with 3 actual lane lines and a buoy lane line. We all had to bring our own equipment (kick board, pull buoy, paddles, zoomers), and we were happy to do so. Our summer/outdoor pool was Ashworth in Des Moines. Ashworth was our 8 lane, 50 meter pool. The first two summers swimming there, DSM Park and Rec claimed that the pool was heated, yet the heater was always broken! Summer morning practice use to start at 6 am, and we were lucky if the temperature of the pool was warmer than 76 degrees. We had 4, 50 meter lane lines, 2 sets of flags, and one pace clock. We understood what it was like to have swimming be a full contact sport: imagine doing backstroke, outside, with only one lane line on a side, tons of fun!
After about 2 years we stopped calling Dave, Mr. Joenson, and started calling him Dave. (I personally called him Davo, and still do, today). Dave was always walking around on deck. We never saw him sit down. Dave also had his quirks…Diet Mt. Dew (in the beginning), and then to Orange Sunkist soda. Dave had no less than a 24 pack of either per day. Dave had a great sense of humor with us, for the most part. We would steal his cans of soda and hide them on deck. He would eventually find them, and then drink them. There was one summer (the team was still pretty small), Dave had a 2 liter bottle of Diet Dew on the Ashworth pool deck, and Soren Heilskov (one of the original members) decided to put the bottle into his drag suit and swim backstroke. Soren yells at Dave, “Hey Dave can you look at my backstroke and see if I’m doing anything wrong?!” We all died laughing, including Dave, who yelled at Soren to bring his Dew back. It was a nice relief between the sets we were doing, for Dave put us through our paces with his complex and difficult practices. Dave knew the importance of keeping our spirits up, especially when his workouts were kicking our asses.
Dave also had his stern, pissed off side. Dave has a vein in the middle of his forehead that pops out when he’s really pissed. Few of us have seen this vein. I have seen this vein…several times. The two times I remember the most were my junior and senior year of high school. The first time I saw the vein, I was mouthing off and Dave yelled at me to get in the pool. I mouthed off at him and I got my own lane (in a 25 yard pool) and a set…20 x 100 on 1:10 and if I went over 1:10 at any point, I would have to start over. Man, Dave was pissed at me that day. Well, I started the set with the first 4 x 100 hitting around 1:08/9. Then I got into a groove…the next 3 were 1:06/7, the next 3 were 1:05, then I held the last 10 at 1:02/3. When I finished, I was hurting a little bit, but I again, made the mistake of lipping off to Dave about giving me a real challenge. I got kicked out of practice that day. Rightfully so; I deserved it. The second time I saw the vein was the summer of my senior year of high school at an outdoor meet in Clinton, Iowa. I was freaking out about the possibility of college swimming. Dave and I got into a screaming match in the parking lot of the pool after a session. He was in the right (as usual) and I was being dumb. This was our dynamic. I never have and never will lose respect for Dave. His passion for the sport and his ability to see what potential a swimmer had, even if they couldn’t. This is part of why he is an awesome and progressive coach. He cared (still cares) so much for his swimmers.
By 2000, CIA had grown tremendously. We had complete sets of lane lines for both pools, we had pace clocks, we had funds, and we had a few more coaches on deck. Dave was still head cheese though, and everyone knew it. Fall of 2001 was the third time swimming changed my life. Dave hired me as an assistant coach. I had the honor of working under Dave and learning from him. Dave has two Master of Science Degrees in the human sciences, he went to countless conferences on how to better swimming and the club. Dave was and still is a plethora of biomechanical, nutritional, physiological, psychological, and practical knowledge of sports science and swimming.
Becoming an assistant coach gave me a very different perspective in swimming. I went from in the pool to the pool deck, I had to learn how to deal with parents, kids who were easy to coach, kids who were difficult to coach, kids like me, drama (from all ages), and the board. Some days were easier than others and as the team grew, so did the parent base. Some parents were easier to deal with than others. I finally began to understand how politics and agendas played a role in the club. When I swam on ACAC my mother was the club president, and I remember her telling me about some of the politics that went on; that information didn’t sink in until I became an assistant coach of a larger club. I knew how much Dave put into this club, and I was there when the club started, so I remember what the original mission was. I loved coaching all the swimmers at CIA, as I hoped I would be as much of a positive, entertaining (and didn’t let swimmers get away with shit) influence as Dave was to me. Unfortunately, as the club grew, that mission became overshadowed by politics and agendas. Coaching under Dave gave me many of the tools in life that I use today, and I am beyond grateful for my time at CIA. I coached at CIA from 2001 until I became a paramedic in 2012.
From 1996 to 2015, CIA has changed dramatically; some for the better, some for the worse. Under Dave’s leadership CIA developed into one of the best and in some years, the best USA swim team in the state. Dave always emphasized team work, self-responsibility, good work ethic, proper technique, and the list goes on. He cared about his team and his swimmers. As time has moved forward, the team has grown to the point of where multiple, simultaneous practices are held at multiple locations. More coaches were hired to continue to have quality coaching for the swimmers. The board also changed as time moved forward…
This past February 2015, Dave was forced out of his position. Dave called me to tell me that he was no longer the head coach before I heard it from anyone else. I asked current coaches and parents their side of the story, but I didn’t get much information from them. What is very apparent though is that the board wanted to go one direction and Dave wanted to go another. What those directions were, only Dave and the board know.
What I do know, is due to politics and agendas, CIA lost a great coach and mentor. CIA lost. Am I biased in saying that CIA lost? Damn right, I am. Coaches like Dave are few and far between. Dave created this team from the bottom up. He created a family. Dave has, and always had, the most up to date information about coaching and training both in and out of the water. Dave has created countless State Champions, team championship titles, National qualifiers, and some Olympics Trials swimmers. Dave created a team that allowed for success through his leadership and knowledge. Dave lived and breathed CIA, and we were all his kids. Dave knows his shit. The past swimmers who trained and competed under Dave know what CIA was all about. Now the team has changed and will never be the same again. Future swimmers will never know or have the opportunity to train or compete under such a great coach. Dave has a gift that few if any coaches actually have.
While Dave was putting his blood, sweat, and tears into this team, the board handled the behind the scenes stuff that goes on when running a large swim club. The board failed Dave and failed the team. The board had their own biased agenda. The board thinks they know what’s best for the swimmer(s) and club. The board lost Dave. Back in the day, when the board did their job without interfering with Dave and his coaches, life was good. The minute board members (parents of the swimmers) felt the need to push their own agendas and not listen to the man who created this team and ran it for 20 years (20 YEARS); they lost Dave. The board has lost and forgotten what “for the benefit of the swimmer” means; they forgot what and WHY CIA was formed in the first place. CIA formed when DMSF board and other coaches’ agendas got in the way of the swimmer’s needs. CIA is forever changed and without Dave Joenson as its leader, the club will never be as great as it once was.
Where I know that this blog post will upset, possibly piss off some on the board as well as some parents, all of this needed to be said. I know that I may or may not have black listed myself from coaching for a while, and I am OK with that. But this needed to be said. I wrote this post based on the information that I have from the past and present. The fact that when questions are directed to the board about this whole situation, they go unanswered or are answered by blanket, vague answers, which only fuels anger, frustration, and rumors. I have known Dave since I was 15 (I’m 34 now). I have been his swimmer, his assistant coach, and friend. I know that Dave would never do anything to damage a team he built from the ground up 20 years ago.
I feel for the CIA swimmers in the pool. I wish all the best in their swimming careers. Good luck to the coaches who are left on the deck, without the leadership, knowledge, and experience from Dave. For now those coaches have to deal with the agendas and biases of a club board who forced out one of the best coaches in the State of Iowa and one of the best human beings I know, from the job he put his whole life into and sacrificed so much for.
What happened to “for the benefit of the swimmer”?