One evening in 2016, I found myself parked in front of the television set, transfixed by the action unfolding before me. TV is something that I don’t often indulge in during this busy season of life, but I will make exceptions from time to time. This particular evening was a special occasion: the beginning of the summer Olympics. Even more special, it was the final Olympics for Michael Phelps, that freak of nature who seems more comfortable and coordinated submerged in water than walking on land. As my family and I watched the races, I couldn’t help but think back to a time when my entire life, or at least my entire fall and winter, revolved around the sport of swimming. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but watching these titans of water sport and listening to the commentary brought it all rushing back, like a wave hitting an unsuspecting sand castle on the beach. After one of Phelps’ races, the poolside interviewer asked how he felt. “It hurts” answered Michael honestly. Yeah, I remembered that, too.
A few days later, I recalled some old VHS tapes that had been given to me by my father, recordings of some of my swimming events from the early 90’s. The idea struck me that I should find a way to digitize those, before time and elements degraded the quality of the physical media even more than they already had. I messed around for a few more days, finding a way to suitably send an old VCR signal to my computer for proper encoding and editing. When you digitize tapes in this fashion, it’s got to be done in real-time. So, as the tapes were playing during the long transfer process, I sat and watched. Through the grainy pixelation of early 90’s video quality, I saw familiar faces of friends who I hadn’t spoken to in years. I witnessed races that I had completely put out of memory, and I noticed a passion and competitiveness in myself that, as a mid-life IT engineer, has been sorely lacking for quite some time.
The thing that startled me the most was how much of this period of my life I’d forgotten. I swam the 100 freestyle at conference my senior year, and won? Did I break that record my junior year or senior year? What was my best time in the 100 butterfly? These are things that five, even ten years after the fact I could have rattled off like the pledge of allegiance. But 25 years down the line, I struggled to unearth them from the corners of my mind. I started pulling out old boxes from underneath the basement storage shelves and going through the long neglected contents. I found yellowed newspaper clippings. I found a scrapbook put together by my parents for my high school graduation. I found a small book of swimming photos from my sister. I found old booklets previewing the high school sports teams prior to the upcoming season, and heat sheets! My mother was such a meticulous note-taker that I was blessed with entire meet programs. In her handwriting was scribbled hastily recorded times and places for several of our larger swim meets. With each new artifact, another old memory stirred. But one thing was still missing. Where was the box with all of my awards? I looked up and down the rows of shelves. I rifled through the boxes from my childhood once, twice, probably three or four times. I called my parents, who hadn’t seen them. I was at a loss. How could so many trophies, plaques and certificates simply disappear? After high school, like many others, I made it a bit of a point to distance myself from past accomplishments. Nobody wants to be caught living in the past, least of all by fellow college students who could care less about where you came from or what you’ve done previous to the panacea of acedemia. So, I pushed the memories away. Then, I got my degree. Then, I got a job. Then, I got married. Then, I had a baby. Then, I had three more babies. Then, I found myself watching Michael Phelps in the summer Olympics and wondering how long it had been since I’d even tried to swim a 100 freestyle.
The call came a few weeks later. Dad found two cardboard boxes in the attic of his garage with my name on them. They were there! They were all there. My awards had been placed so far down my list of priorities that I’d packed them up (or, more likely, had never unpacked them after moving away from home), hauled them over to mom and dad’s new house and thrown them in the loft of the garage as if they were last year’s Christmas decorations. They’d been there so long that all of us had forgotten about them. But here they were, the final piece of my past swimming life, or so I thought at the time.
It continued to bother me that I’d forgotten so much about my own past. Something that was once so important to me, so integral to forming me as a person, had been relegated to dusty VHS tapes and storage containers, one step from being hauled to the curb on trash day. How much had I forgotten? How much more WOULD I forget? What about the stories I had from my days on the team? I still remembered some, but to what degree of accuracy and for how much longer were questions that continued to tug at me. I had written a blog post titled “How I Got My Start in Swimming” that told the story that few people outside of my family were aware of. But there were so many more stories, so many characters and teammates who were important to me that I felt the need to record more. I started to write up a post about my high school swimming years. It soon became apparent that I would need to split the post into several. Reviewing this period of history in my mind helped me to more fully appreciate the influence it had on my growth towards adulthood. I can now embrace my swimming years for what they were: a time of my life where anything seemed possible, a time when I made friends who I still love dearly to this day. These experiences shaped me, and while they are not to be dwelt upon, neither should they be ignored. Eventually I decided to dedicate one blog post to each year of high school. Thus, the “Tales of a Tiger Shark” post series was born.
While doing some preliminary research for the series, I contacted some of my former coaches and teammates to validate a few things, and to get another perspective on certain events. I learned something that shouldn’t have surprised me. They didn’t remember things from 25 years ago any better than I did! It was then that I realized the importance of getting these events recorded. We all swam for a small town high school before the popularization of the world wide web, and certainly before anybody would care to spend time and resources electronically chronicling the goings-on of a swim team from corn country, Indiana. Searching Google for Lebanon Tiger Sharks resulted in finding more tips for snorkeling in the middle-east than anything else. I needed to chronicle not only the newspaper clippings, photos and videos I was in possession of, but also the things that only I, and perhaps a few of my other teammates, remembered: getting in a physical fight with Matt Livengood, running through the snow in Speedos, breaking my first team record, and then having to watch it fall the very next season, coming within three points of winning the Sagamore Conference for the first time in the history of the school, the feeling of representing Lebanon at the state meet, the brotherhood we forged, my transformation from an unknown move-in to a team leader. These were the things I wanted to record. In a way, since much of the series is based solely on my slowly failing memory, I am not only recording history, I’m writing it.
Eventually, while still working on the series, I decided to create a page dedicated to hosting the story of the early 90’s Lebanon Tiger Sharks. I didn’t want this history to get buried within the pages of my main blog and eventually forgotten. The result of this project is the website you are visiting right now. Welcome to tigersharktales.com!