Story and photo by Emily Mikesell
After about five years of only coaching boys swim, Colleen Gibler has finally added girls swim to her schedule and puts herself at the top of West’s swim empire.
Five years before Gibler primarily coached boys, she was coaching both girls and boys as well as teaching IB classes. She started having health issues and “was just burning the candle stick at both ends and my doctors [said] you have to quit something.”
The first thing they tried to do is drop one season of swimming. Gibler left it up to Mrs. Katzfey to pick which swim team she stayed with. “I didn’t want to pick because I like them both the same,” said Gibler. Katzfey explained to Gibler that it was going to be harder for her to find a boys coach then a girls coach so Gibler stayed with the boys.
Dropping one season of swimming wasn’t helping Gibler at all. “So then we backed off the IB classes and my health really did improve,” Gibler said. Now, this year, with her health improved, she went back to coaching Girls swim.
Sophomore Molly Harmon, explains how happy she was when she heard Gibler was coming back. “I have known her since I was four and she was my first swim coach.”
Junior Austin Graham said how “…she is devoted to both the boys and girls swim teams, constantly thinking about how she can improve each swimmer, even in the off season.” Gibler finds happiness in being a leader to both teams.
“I really enjoy the boys and they are totally different to coach,” said Gibler. “When they are working really really hard, they can laugh at the same time just during their five seconds of air.” Giber also said girls get more intense while they are working, but can have a good time afterwards.
“She can motivate anyone to achieve more than they think,” said Harmon. Gibler “…instills a desire to succeed in everyone from Varsity cuts to state cuts.” Harmon said that her coach’s passion for the sport is one of her many great qualities.
“I like watching kids gain confidence and learn about themselves. Learn that they can get over things that they thought they could never get over and learn that they are better than they ever thought they could be. Learn what putting in a little bit of commitment can do,” said Gibler.
Gibler not only connects with her athletes from a coaching standpoint, but on a personal level as well.
Gibler described the many relationships that have gone on for years and years with former athletes. “I go to their weddings and i’m there when they have their first child and that’s a great part of it,” said Gibler.
Graham touches on the subject that Gibler cares about the athletes as if they are her own children. “I would consider her one of the few people I would talk to about a personal matter.”
While connecting with and supporting her athletes is good, it’s not always common to hear those roles be reversed.
When the boys swim team went to state this year “her dad passed away and she stayed at the meet,” said Graham. “We dedicated our relays to her dad.” The boys and their parents supported Gibler and made it possible for her to go straight to be with family rather than coming all the way back to Lee’s Summit. Three or four days later she was back to start girls swim.
With Gibler’s kids being grown and gone, it’s just her and her husband at home. “This is my social life,” Gibler explains.
Gibler brings her fun spirit to practices but makes sure the hard work gets done. “Gibler always has something up her sleeve [from] bringing french fries to practice to water aerobics to fun drills and swims,” Harmon said.
Graham claimed that he will remember her fun spirit and sense of humor the most and decides that she’s definitely one of the most fun coaches he’s ever had.
“Even when I retire I’ll still coach in some way just because I love it,” said Gibler.
Graham also said that “she always teaches life lessons and her experiences in life show us how our decisions can affect our future.”
While Gibler remains quiet about her influence on the athletes, she said “I think anybody’s kidding themselves if they think that they’re the all important. I hope it shows them that it takes a village to raise a child and even though they are teenagers, they are still needing some raising so I’m apart of the village.”