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The Energizer Blog

  • Writer's pictureEileen McDargh


A colleague of mine shared a story about his mother that reinforced my belief one can never start too early to develop critical resiliency traits. Read and learn from Joan Domitrz: Adaptability is the first resiliency trait.  Imagine growing up in the 1950s in a close-knit family that struggled financially. Joan Domitrz didn’t have the luxury of a country club with golf and tennis as sports. In fact, in 1957, high schools had no sports for women.  Joan joined one of the only judo clubs for women in the country.  Not only did she quickly pick it up but she also led judo demonstrations that included doing a live TV segment in Chicago. The second trait is Agility. I define this as speed and flexibility coupled with wisdom.   At age 28 and with four children, Joan quickly realized she wanted a new challenge: competitive swimming.  Speed was her mantra and she soon placed in the top six at the National Masters Championships. Alignment is the next resiliency trait.  This trait implies that one is connected with a mission bigger than one’s self. Not content with personal achievements, Joan went on to coach others at her local YMCA, ultimately helping a team reach fourth place in the YMCA National Championships. Under her tutelage, several of her swimmers also received athletic scholarships to universities around the country. According to one of her swimmers, Tracy Jones, "Coach D  taught me how to make clear goals and obtain them, and hard work and dedication pay off. She never coddled me and I appreciated this about her. My parents were going though a divorce, my Dad and I had moved to Janesville from Illinois and things were hard. Swimming was my escape. Coach D made sure that was my sanctuary. She never treated me any differently and did not try to "counsel" me. She addressed my behavior once during that time and that was to tell me to knock it off!  She is a strong woman who was a great role model for me and for any young woman." Adaptability combined with alignment and agility when Joan was asked to train several swimmers from the School for the Blind in Janesville, WI. Joan took a creative approach and came up with a unique system for helping the blind swimmers excel. A few of those swimmers went on to win multiple Gold Medals at the Para-Olympics (including setting world records). Soon after, the world's most renowned swim coach, Doc Councilman (who coached Mark Spitz), called Joan to ask how she was able to train blind swimmers to have such incredible success!! A resilient leader never stops looking for ways to reframe the negative and find what is possible.  When the local high school tried to drop the boy's swimming program, Joan saved the program by helping to raise money and then volunteered to be the Head Coach. Considering she was 66 at the time, and had a stellar history that included serving as head coach for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and had started a swim club. Joan could have easily retired.  Not when there is more to be done.  This year, Joan starts her fourth season with the high school team. The final resiliency trait is laugh ability.  One does not rate continuous praise from students and swimmers alike unless there’s a measure of humor and joy in each encounter. Joan is known for loving to dance. In her final year as head coach at the university, all the teams at the conference championships had her lead the crowd in dancing to Y.M.C.A. by the Village People. I’d say that has embraced life, challenges and opportunities swimmingly!

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