Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Ralph Crocker, An Influential Man

The Ralph Crocker Classic Swim Meet is named for an incredible swim coach who believed in swimmers and expected great things from them—in and out of the pool.

Several years ago, Ralph Crocker’s introduction to the parents and swimmers of our age-group swim team was more like he was having a thoughtful, but a very matter-of-fact, conversation with friends. Early in this meeting, he portrayed his love for his family -- his wife, and Cameron, their daughter. They meant the world to him. In a courageous statement, he also admitted to this group of strangers that he will become melancholy at a certain time of the year which coincides with the time of the year that Lindsey, Margaret and Ralph’s daughter, died. His openness to his emotional side indicated that he understood the important things in life.

In describing his coaching philosophy, he emphasized that the sport of swimming is about the kids. At this meeting, parents knew that he would teach more than swimming; we knew he would also teach them many life skills. Trusting him with my children was easy because he immediately served as a role model for not only the kids, but also the parents.

Although Ralph is known for coaching top-notch teenage and college swimmers, he understood each of his swimmers from the youngest age-group kid and to the Olympians. Passionate about coaching and “genuine love for his swimmers”, he motivated and challenged each one individually. He demonstrated to us parents how to be positive and caring and to share humor.

During Ralph’s memorial service, the word “incredible” was used over and over because it describes the power of influence he had on others. As the long distance swimming coach during the most productive years of Auburn University swim program, Ralph encouraged, coached, parented, challenged, and mentored swimmers so that they accomplished what seemed unreachable. Ironically, they loved Ralph for pushing them. His workouts were fondly known as Ralph’s House of Pain (RHOP). BJ Jones, former Auburn University Swim Team Captain and of member of four NCAA Championship teams, described Ralph best.

Ralph made us believe in ourselves; believe that we could be great even when we weren't so sure. Ralph taught me courage, confidence, and conviction. He’s the only man I've ever met (who) had the ability to challenge and push his athletes to the limit every day, and have them love him for it. He would ask us to do unbelievable things that should have been impossible, but we did them anyway, partly because we wanted to make him proud, but mostly because he made us believe that we could do it.

Ralph Crocker was a man of integrity, influence, positive attitude, and a sense of humor. Ralph has influenced thousands of swimmers, coaches, and parents in his positive attitude, his love for coaching, and his dedication to developing kids into adults. Even in his last days, he courageously battled cancer without complaint, focusing on the future. Ralph Crocker showed us how to live and how to die.

Margaret has dealt with Ralph’s disease and his last days with untiring strength and love. Even on the day of his memorial service, Margaret’s gentle, southern sweetness, as always, made people feel comfortable and “at home”. Margaret and Cameron have been through more tribulations in their lives than most of us can imagine. Some say that bad things happen to good people so that these good people can show us how to react to adversity. The way Ralph lived his life demonstrated how to focus on the important things in life. Margaret’s and Cameron’s strength gives us encouragement to do so.

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