Helen Coyne was a pillar of the Woodside community. Back in the 1960’s athletic programs for girls were rare. She fought to ensure that young girls had the same opportunity as the boys to learn and compete through the sport of swimming. She understood that drowning was a preventable tragedy. Her record as the head of the St. Sebastian Girls Swim Team is unmatched. In her 22 years of service, she directed the team through 14 years of undefeated CYO Championships and more than 150 consecutive swim meets won…but that’s only the icing on the cake.
Helen made a difference in so many young women’s lives. She had no daughters of her own…but through her work with St. Sebastian’s she had 45-100 daughters every year. She recognized us when we performed well…and called us out if we didn’t. She taught us that there was no shame in loosing as long as you put it all out there and did your best.
At her direction we learned:
- How to use our determination and grit to turn an ok workout into a great workout.
- How to win….it’s a great way to experience success. It doesn’t have to be boastful, but it is right to acknowledge the work done to achieve those results
- And how to loose, with grace, dignity and the resilience to shake it off and get back in the pool to work harder
- How to be accountable for our actions
- How to help one another
- How to respect those in authority…even when they made a mistake
- How to respect and appreciate your competition
- How to learn and grow from our mistakes
- How to set goals for ourselves and to have the discipline needed to accomplish them.
Helen was a great role model on many levels. She demonstrated how important it was to work with colleagues who formed a great coaching team. I want to remember these great Woodsiders too: Joan Menshing, Marty O’Kane, Bill Goodwin, Marta and Vince Nunziato, Pat Auld, Sally and Karen O’Keefe, Karen Doody, Debbie Konecko, Ingrid and Barbara Grein, Susan Hourigan, and Dawn Hughes. What we as athletes and families saw of Helen on the deck and at swim meets only represented half the time she spent taking care of administrative work; setting up meets; going to various meetings inside the parish and out.
She was a great LEADER:
She got people to think, believe, see and do what they might not have done with out her encouragement. She had the vision to set the right goals and the decisiveness to pursue them single mindedly. She helped us overcome our fears and perform with confidence.
She was a great COACH:
She was tough….but she was fair. She had a way of engaging and challenging you to be the best you could be. She taught us values that prepared us for our lives ahead. I know of several girls whose lives she turned around because Helen took an interest in the well being of the “whole” person…not just the athlete.
She helped us understand the value and importance of hard work, rules and discipline. That perseverance and the repetition of good habits, is the key to success. That together we can be something bigger and better than we are as individuals.
Helen often said that what we give of ourselves pales in comparison to what we get in return in seeing our children develop skills, confidence, self discipline, persistency, teamwork, resiliency…all skills which they take with them, out of the pool and apply in their academic world and beyond.
The gifts Helen gave to “Her Girls” through swimming have helped us to not only be better athletes but more importantly better people. I know that a little bit of Helen lives on in those lucky to have been coached by her. It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.
Shawn Slevin is the Founder of Swim Strong Foundation; former Director of St. Sebastian Swim Team (1970-2012); Proud to be one of Helen’s Girls (1965 – Life)