Growing Strong Together at the Y
It sounds ironic, but Caleb Miller, who qualified for nationals three times and state every year, didn't always love to swim with the La Crosse Area Family WAVE team. Like many kids he wanted to play football, baseball, and basketball. "But sometimes dreams change. My parents knew this and wanted me to try something new," Caleb says. "After hearing about Jon Brenner and that he was an outstanding coach, they decided to sign me up for swimming."
Over the course of time, it was Jon who helped to shape Caleb into who he is today: a member of the Y's WAVE team reflecting each important Y pillar: youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. "These also were the pillars of Jon Brenner," Caleb says. As he became more open to swimming and learning about life from not only Jon and his parents, Wade and Jill Miller, but also his team members, he grew each season. "At first I was not a big fan of swimming," says Caleb, who joined at age 9 and had no choice but to swim with the youngest members. "I asked my parents every day if I could quit swimming or skip practice just one more time."
At the start of his second season, his parents registered him for his first swim meet. "To ease my nerves, they didn't tell me until the day of the meet," Caleb says. "After the race, there was a ritual of talking with Jon, the head coach. I feared he was going to tell me what I did wrong, so I slipped into the boy's locker room." Caleb then discovered a couple of things - he couldn't hide from his coach, and Jon's coaching style wasn't what he expected. He met with Jon after his next race. "He ever so gently placed his hand on my head and looked me straight into my eyes telling me that I did a good job," Caleb says. "I felt as though I was the only swimmer in the pool."
That formative experience inspired Caleb to keep swimming for the Y. He signed up for more meets. "I not only grew to love swimming, but I also looked forward to having my 'one-on-one' time with Jon," Caleb says. After a few years, Caleb began to feel overwhelmed in two sports - the Wave and basketball at Lincoln Middle School. He struggled with which one to leave, so he sought out Jon for his wisdom. "Then, like so many other times, he put his hand on my head. Showing me that I was the center of his world at that moment, Jon said, 'Caleb, no matter what you choose, we will always be here if you want to come back.' It hit me right there! I knew that I wanted to swim and be part of the Y team Jon was leading." Once Caleb reached Logan High School, he had the opportunity to swim for the Y and school. "It was a thrilling time," Caleb says. "Media publicity, breaking school records, and competing at a state level provided the attention needed to elevate the sport of swimming and recruit additional swimmers."
Caleb's swimming had become more about others than him. His abilities go beyond the water. Caleb uses his talents, including a charismatic personality, to point the next generation of swimmers to be good leaders and make smart decisions, all the while giving the glory to God for successes. While it would've been natural for him to swim on his school team his senior year, he didn't want to miss priceless hours swimming for the Y. The 18-year-old Caleb won at state this year and competed at nationals for his final time with his relay team of close friends. "Jon gave me more than swimming; he gave me a community that I wanted to belong to. He gave me building blocks that an awkward 9-year-old needed to grow into a man. And he gave me a sense of responsibility and pride that I wanted to pass along to the next generation of swimmers at the Y."
- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC. 2014